ERIE — With so much offensive firepower on display in a league-deciding matchup between Erie and Broomfield, a Tigers defense fueled by the playmaking of Ryan McConnell grabbed its share of the spotlight Friday night.
McConnell recovered a fumble, stripped a pair of others, and CHSAA Class 4A No. 4 Erie beat the visiting Eagles, 49-21, to claim the Northern 1 League crown.
The senior — playing linebacker, center, kick returner — ended a pair of promising drives for Broomfield in the opening half and was answered with two quick touchdowns the other way. Then on the Eagles’ first touch after the break, he delivered another strip-sack as Erie pushed its lead to four touchdowns on Blake Barnett’s third passing score.
The performance helped the Tigers (9-0, 4-0 Northern 1) claim their third league title in four years and automatically secured them a postseason spot. In turn, the loss delivered a hefty blow to Broomfield’s playoff chances as the Eagles (4-5, 3-1) came into the night just inside the projected 24-team playoff field at 20th in RPI.
What had started on a perfect football night with some intrigue, surrounded by a packed house of nerves and emotion, quickly unfolded into another Erie blowout.
Offensively, Barnett threw three TDs to Gauge Nichols and another to Trey Khanna for the junior’s first reception of the season. The touted sophomore QB also had a 49-yard rushing touchdown to put his total scores on the year at 37 scores in nine games.
Caleb Theisen, meanwhile, crossed the century mark for the fifth time this fall, again showing off his big-play ability with a 53-yard touchdown run on his second touch of the game.
Broomfield’s offense had some response. Just not nearly enough.
Kadin Quintana went over 100 yards on the ground for a second time this season while breaking off a 51-yard TD run in the second quarter. Cole LaCrue, who came into the week inside the top 10 in passing yards in the state, threw for another 250-plus and ran for a late score.
For much of the night, though, LaCrue and the Eagles were hassled by Erie’s defense.
The first three times the Eagles crossed midfield ended in disappointment. With a big-play offense on the other side, the often-overlooked Erie D thwarted Broomfield’s 13-play, opening drive as LaCrue couldn’t handle a wayward snap and McConnell pounced. Two plays later, Theisen raced down the far sideline for his 17th touchdown of the season.
The next time the Eagles crossed the halfway point, McConnell stripped LaCrue from behind and Erie pushed its lead to 14-0 on a 40-yard connection from Barnett to Nichols.
Down 21-7, their third trip was halted by a fourth-down tackle short of the sticks by CJ Reeves.
Erie will finish the season at home against Windsor. Broomfield hosts Greeley West.