Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer
ERIE — Passing with flying colors, Erie had little trouble throughout its perfect regular-season campaign.
And thanks to the run, its start to the playoffs saw another test aced.
Blake Barnett rushed for three scores to open things and finished with four TDs to add to his fabulous sophomore resumé. Caleb Theisen tossed in another three on the ground through three quarters and the Class 4A fifth-seeded Tigers continued their dominant ways following a first-round bye with a 50-26 win over No. 12 Fruita Monument Friday night.
Really, it wasn’t even that close.
Proving mostly as unwarranted anticipation, the Tigers again did what they did in the regular season and extended their fall streak of blowout wins. They’ve yet to play a game decided by fewer than three scores this season.
Barnett and Theisen led a rushing attack that came into the night ranked first in 4A on yards per carry at 9.5 per touch. They averaged around 11 in this one as it scored seven times on the ground through the first three quarters.
They finished with roughly 250 rushing yards, meaning they’ve had at least 200 on the ground in six games this season.
Barnett, the sophomore QB, finished Erie’s first three drives and added another score late in the third to give him 43 total TDs this fall.
Theisen, meanwhile, went over the century mark on the ground for a seventh time this year — did so by his eighth carry — and pushed the lead to five TDs with his third of the night late in the third.
At the break, Wyatt Sharpe appeared to have the Wildcats in reach. Sorta. He scored his second TD on a short run following a 17-play drive as time expired in the opening half to pull within 29-14.
The Western Slope team twice failed on downs coming out of it and Erie turned it into three unanswered TDs to push the lead to 50-14 headed into the fourth.
Moving on, the Tigers will face the winner of Saturday’s second-round game between No. 13 Pueblo West and fourth-seed Palmer Ridge. If there is no upset, they’ll travel to Monument to play the Bears for the first time since 2017 when Palmer Ridge beat Erie in the 3A championship game.
Whatever happens, Friday served as a tune-up.
An offense that hasn’t been slowed down all year reached the end zone four times over the first 5:50 of the game, with two getting brought back by penalty only to be resolved on short TD runs by Barnett.
The sophomore QB’s 8-yard scamper counted after a holding call erased his score from 16 yards out. He also had TDs on rushes of 1 and 8 in the quarter to give Erie a 21-7 lead.
Theisen took the lead from there, scoring on runs of 15, 5 and 49 to push the advantage to 50-14 with 1:10 left in the third.
Barnett finished with 49 yards on the ground and another 149 through the air. Theisen had 155 yards on 10 carries and one reception of 25 yards.