Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Laurne Cordova / Loveland Reporter-Herald
Here’s how sweet things have been for Erie’s 6-0 football team: The Tigers have won each of their first six games by an average of 31 points. … They’ve seen more ridiculous production from their sparkling do-it-all back, Noah Roper. … And perhaps best of all, the Tigers have forced 12 turnovers — a significant and delicious stat since defensive coordinator Eric Mickens buys his players ice cream for every turnover they force.
“That’s a huge part of our defensive culture right there,” defensive end Jaymeson Nelms said.
Turns out, Erie is more than just an offense fueled by last year’s state rushing leader, Roper, and his weekly YouTube-worthy runs. The Tigers’ hungry defense — which has churned out six straight dominating performances to begin the year — will be key if Erie hopes to return to the 3A state title game for a second straight year following last season’s 46-21 loss to Palmer Ridge.
Question is, will the realization of a prolific offense and shutdown defense be the recipe for Erie’s first state title in football since 1997?
“I think expectations have risen,” Erie coach Chad Cooper said. “Last year we lost two of our last three games of the regular season and we were still figuring ourselves out all the way to the playoffs. But this year, knowing capabilities that we have has raised the level of expectations for this team.
“We have a lot of seniors that have played for two or three years, and that has given us a lot of experience and has led to success so far.”
There’s Roper — Mr. Set Your Phones to Record — who is again leading the offense with another dazzling campaign on the ground. A year after topping all state backs with 2,631 yards, Roper is doing more with less during his senior season. The back who is garnering interest from the top colleges in the state has averaged nearly three more yards per carry this year than last — 7.3 to 10.2. He has 1,144 yards on the ground through six games.
There’s also quarterback Gavin Mendoza, who has thrown seven touchdowns to just one interception.
And then there’s the defense.
The Tigers have allowed just over 11 points a game — and most of those points have come after starters were sat with the game already in hand. Third-year starters Nathan Hackney and Nelms have been the staples to an aggressive and talented defensive line. And Roper has helped lead a high-flying, hard-hitting secondary on the backend.
Last week, the Tigers held Northridge to 73 total yards in a 48-0 win as both Hackney and Aaron Dixon recovered fumbles. Thursday, Erie will look for more of the same as it tries to improve to 7-0 against Niwot.
“We take pride in not being scored on,” Hackney said. “We like shutouts. That’s the goal every game.”
Getting ice cream … they like that, too. Hackney and Nelms said the dairy tradition has taken off inside the defensive unit and has everyone looking for their taste.
Two weeks ago, Nelms brought out next-level moves to get his first ice cream of the season. The senior watched a highlight of all-pro Aaron Donald doing a nifty spin move, and then decided he’d imitate it. He stepped left, then right, before flipping his hips around the lineman. He charged the quarterback untouched to force a tipped-ball interception. The following week, Hackney, who has been a part of four turnovers this year, recovered a fumble. He celebrates his takeaways by screaming “Ice Cream!” as he runs to the sideline.
“Everybody wants ice cream,” Hackney said. “Everybody is striving to get ice cream. It’s the best feeling in the world. I don’t know why, but it’s kind of turned into our thing.”
Oh, sweet times for Erie.
Brent W. New:firstname.lastname@example.org and @brentwnew