ERIE -— Noah Roper said before the season that nothing less than a state title was going to cut it for the Erie football team this year.
"Our expectation is to win state, especially after what we did last year (in finishing runner-up in Class 3A)," the standout senior running back noted. "It's nothing less than that. The bar is set there and that's definitely what everyone is expecting."
On Saturday afternoon at Erie in the Tigers' state playoff opener, Roper played like a guy on a mission.
Though he fumbled the ball away on the third play from scrimmage, he more than made up for it with 253 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 26 carries in a 40-0 pummeling of Durango. All those numbers for Roper came in 2 1/2 quarters before some of the offensive starters were subbed out of a game in which the final eight minutes were played with a running clock due to the mercy rule.
After the contest, Roper indicated nothing has changed regarding his title-or-bust mentality for 2018.
"That's definitely my mindset," he said. "Bringing a championship to this town, I've been wanting to do that since I was little."
Saturday's victory keeps Erie's record perfect (11-0) and gives the third-seeded Tigers a second straight home game in the playoffs as they'll host sixth-seeded Green Mountain (9-2 and the Mt. Metro League champion) next weekend in the 3A quarterfinals. GMHS defeated Thomas Jefferson 33-14 in first-round action on Friday night.
Roper, who broke a 61-yard run on his first carry on Saturday, surpassed 2,000 yards rushing for the season and 6,000 for his career before intermission. He also scored both of Erie's first two touchdowns en route to a 13-0 halftime lead.
The senior now has two straight 2,000-yard rushing seasons (2,631 in 2,017 and 2,099 and counting this year) and 6,209 on the ground for his career.
"You get the ball in Noah's hands and good things are going to happen," Erie coach Chad Cooper said. "Noah is the best running back in the state. He's going to get his."
Combine an offense racking up 401 yards and a defense forcing five turnovers and recording its third shutout of the season, and you're left with a bunch of happy campers wearing Erie uniforms.
Joshua Bradford intercepted a pass and a recovered a fumble for the Tigers, while Kaleb Fuhrmann and Nikolas Schemecke also had picks, and Ian Vera added a fumble recovery and scored a TD.
"Our defense was dominant today," Cooper said.
"It feels really good," Bradford added regarding the all-around-solid performance by Erie. "It was a really good game. We just came out and got the win and now we're continuing on in the playoffs."
Durango, which finished the season 6-5, was blanked for the first time this year. Suffice it to say it was a much different outcome than last year's playoff matchup between the same two teams, when Erie needed a conversion on fourth-and-14 -— and a subsequent TD —- in the final 90 seconds to beat the Demons by 7.
"It means a lot to come out and play against these guys and do this well," Roper said. "Last year was really close, and it really just shows how much we've improved."
After a scoreless first quarter on Saturday, Erie tallied two touchdowns in each of the final three periods. The Tigers are now outscoring opponents by an average of 43.5-10.2 this season.
"If you let a team hang around -- after playing them last year -- you put yourself in a position where it can go either way," Cooper said. "So we emphasized getting on them early and being physical with them. If we did that, we thought it would make it tough for them to be able to compete. After the first couple of drives we were on them the entire time. Eventually it caught up to them and snowballed in the third quarter a li+ttle bit."
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Erie 40, Durango 0
At Erie HSDurango (6-5) 0 0 0 0 — 0
Erie — Noah Roper 1 run (kick failed). Erie — Roper 1 run (Julian Custine kick).
Erie — Ian Vera 1 run (run failed). Erie — Roper 20 run (Custine kick).
Erie — Tyler Gardner 9 run (Custine kick). Erie — Gardner 8 run (Custine kick).
RUSHING — Durango: Finneseth 4-60, Marcum 13-54, Woolverton 10-50, Hise 2-11, Stanley 1-7, Reimers 1-5; Erie: Roper 26-253, Gardner 5-29, Mendoza 5-21, Lucero 3-19, Vera 3-13.
PASSING — Durango: Woolverton 4-9-2-46, Finneseth 1-1-0-15, Stanley 1-4-1-30; Erie: Mendoza 1-3-0-66, Lucero 0-2-0-0.
RECEIVING — Durango: Marcum 2-34, Hise 2-12, Matz 1-30, Woolverton 1-15; Erie: Nelms 1-66.