Football: Erie Tigers take down Palmer Ridge; headed to Class 4A semis

  • Alissa Noe/BoCoPreps.com

    Erie's Caleb Theisen forces his way through a few Palmer Ridge defenders during the first quarter of the Tigers' quarterfinal win against Palmer Ridge at Don Breese Stadium.

  • Alissa Noe/BoCoPreps.com

    Erie's Darryk Hall (87) and Ryan McConnell (55) take down Palmer Ridge's Joshua Gerlach during the first quarter of the Tigers' quarterfinal win against Palmer Ridge at Don Breese Stadium.

  • Alissa Noe/BoCoPreps.com

    Erie quarterback Blake Barnett passes the ball during the first quarter of the Tigers' quarterfinal win against Palmer Ridge at Don Breese Stadium.

  • Alissa Noe/BoCoPreps.com

    Erie's football team celebrates after the Tigers' quarterfinal win against Palmer Ridge at Don Breese Stadium.

  • Alissa Noe/BoCoPreps.com

    Erie fans celebrate as the clock winds down during the Tigers' quarterfinal win against Palmer Ridge at Don Breese Stadium.

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MONUMENT — Blake Barnett flew through the air and over a couple of Palmer Ridge defenders, right into the end zone. Only three minutes, 45 seconds remained in fifth-seeded Erie’s quarterfinal matchup of the Class 4A state playoffs at the fourth-seeded Bears’ home field of Don Breese Stadium.

The Erie quarterback knew he didn’t have any time to waste, especially as the team only led by three points prior to that heroism. His last-minute touchdown lent way to a 28-18 victory for the Tigers as they managed to keep the Bears at bay throughout the final four minutes of play.

“I think it was the biggest score,” Barnett said. “I’m not trying to toot my own horn or anything, but to get up 10 at the end of the fourth quarter with like a couple of minutes left, I think it was big. I put out everything on the field. I’ll put out everything on the field for this team and this city.”

Barnett led his team with a multi-pronged offensive approach as he threw for 141 yards and ran for 107, including three touchdowns. Senior running back Caleb Theisen added 155 offensive yards to those totals, including a touchdown of his own.

The win was personal for Erie, who fell to the Bears in the Class 3A state championship game just four years earlier. This time, with both schools in a higher classification, it was Erie’s turn to send Palmer Ridge packing earlier than it had hoped.

The win served as a bit of a litmus test for the yet-to-be-defeated Tigers, who have dominated nearly every team they’ve played this year. After all, the semifinals are calling, and it’s only going to get harder from here on out.

“They’re such a great program and everybody knows about them,” head coach Jeff Giger said. “When you’re playing in 4A, they’re one of those programs that you want you to beat, you want to be able to play and measure yourself. I thought we roasted them.”

Throughout the first half, the teams took turns stopping each other on the run and in the air. It was evident, from the first snap, that the game would boil down to defense. The Tigers broke through first with a 19-yard run into the end zone from Barnett with 2:49 left in the first quarter. He followed his own effort up with a quarterback keeper five minutes later to help put his Tigers up 14-0 going into the midway point.

The Bears came out of the half with a bit more fury, not content with that 14-point deficit. They drove all the way into the red zone on their first possession of the third quarter, only to be stalled by the Erie defense when it really mattered. The Tigers forced Rhett Armstrong into taking a 28-yard field goal, which went straight through the uprights.

That 14-3 lead midway through the third quarter didn’t sit right with Theisen, who rocketed 49 yards into the end zone on the next possession. The Bears responded with two more touchdowns and really started to make the Tigers sweat when they pulled within three points, 21-18, thanks to a 20-yard passing TD with eight minutes left in the game.

Barnett took care of that.

Erie added another feather to its cap with the win over an always-formidable Palmer Ridge, but will now have to set its sights on an even tougher team in the top dog, No. 1 Montrose. Thankfully, Erie will get to host its Final Four matchup next weekend.

“Our game plan today was really to just take whatever they give us. We can throw the ball really well and we can run it also really well, so just whatever the defense allows us to do,” Theisen said. “That versatile offense paid off a lot because we were able to get yards wherever. We could pass it, we could run it. The O-line did great. The O-line always does great.”