Football: Erie’s championship-worthy chemistry goes way back

Erie High School's Darryk Hall (No. ...
Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer
Erie High School’s Darryk Hall (No. 87) celebrates recovering a fumble with teammates Ryan McConnell (No. 55) and Trey Khanna (No. 16) in the Class 4A semifinal game against Montrose High School in Erie on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. The Tigers defeated the Indians, 29-28 to advance in the playoffs.
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Erie football’s run to the Class 4A state title game didn’t start during its first game of the season. It didn’t even start during the first practice in April.

For the Tigers, it began way back in elementary school.

The current senior class has spent countless hours on the field together over the past decade or so. It began in flag football and, ever since, the Tigers have continued to build undeniable chemistry that has been evident every time they’ve taken the field this season.

“I would say it’s the majority of everything we have that’s special,” senior Jaylen Klickna said. “Yeah, we do have talent and everything like that, but I think our common unity and our chemistry is what really pulls us together. I’ve been playing with these guys since elementary school; even some of the newer guys I’ve been playing with for a while. Still, I can just tell that’s what’s different about this year. That’s what has been driving our season.”

No play demonstrated that deep trust more than Erie’s trick onside kick during the semifinals against Montrose this past Saturday. As the team was setting up the play, senior SeanThomas Francisco stood right next to the sideline — not behind it — as if he were standing alongside his teammates that weren’t currently playing. Dominic D’Ottavio, another senior, placed the perfect kick.

Francisco recovered and the Tigers scored the go-ahead touchdown and 2-point conversion that would ultimately seal their victory a few plays later.

“It was really a great ending. The team banded together, really came together as one and just pulled out a really great win,” senior Caleb Theisen said. “The program’s really grown with the community and the players. We’ve all just gotten a lot better, which has been able to allow us to be here at the 4A state championship.”

It’s not just the seniors who have been putting in the work, either.

Throughout the spring and summer, sophomore quarterback Blake Barnett decided he wanted to take his game to the next level. He trained with his coaches to prepare for a summer 7-on-7 tournament that took them to Empower Field at Mile High. He’s been able to put together an incredible season that has seen him throw for 1,763 yards on 100 completions and 23 touchdowns. A far cry from a year earlier, when he completed 19 passes for 336 yards and six touchdowns as one of several EHS players to take snaps at quarterback.

“My quarterbacks coach, Warren McCarty, has put countless hours into me and making me a better quarterback from 7-on-7 to lessons on our own,” Barnett explained. “It was really in 7-on-7 last spring I was able to start understanding football. Up until this year, I’ve kinda just played the sport, and now, putting in the mental aspect to the game, it’s gotten a lot easier to make plays and the game has slowed down so much. It’s amazing to experience the growth and improvements.”

The last time the Tigers stepped foot on Empower Field at Mile High, they lost in the semifinals of that 7-on-7 tournament. They vowed they would earn their way back to the venue for the Class 4A state title game, and they accomplished more than enough to make it happen.

Now, they just have to find a way to get past Chatfield at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

“We went to state a couple of years back and didn’t win and it’s been a while since we won,” senior John Pastore said. “It would mean everything to us, the fans and the community to be back at No. 1, just to inspire them and the Tiger program again and bring that back home.”

No. 5 Erie vs. No. 7 Chatfield
Game details: Saturday, 11 a.m., at Empower Field at Mile High
The forecast: The Tigers enter the matchup without a single loss on their resume, although Montrose gave them a good scare during the semifinals. The Chargers, on the other hand, have three losses to their names but they avenged two of them during the playoffs against Pine Creek and Dakota Ridge. The Tigers have been solid on both sides of the ball as Barnett drives a strong passing game and the team has been nearly unstoppable on the run as well. Chatfield has tried out six quarterbacks at various points throughout the season as Jake Jones and Anthony Adams have collected the most passing yardage at 710 and 442 yards, respectively. The Chargers have relied mostly on the run with 3,793 yards, most of which belong to Jake Marschall (1,793). If the Tigers can do their usual thing on offense and find a way to stop the Chargers on the run, they should be able to earn the coveted Class 4A state championship trophy.
Difference-makers: The defense. It’s no secret that the Tigers have been putting up big numbers on the scoreboard all season long, but the defense has been key in stopping their opponents from doing the same to them. Erie ranks second in all of Class 4A in total sacks with 30, most of which have come at the hands of Jackson Cowgill (seven) and Ryan McConnell (five).