When Erie football went down by two touchdowns against No. 1 seed Montrose with six minutes left in the Class 4A state semifinals, Blake Barnett didn’t panic.
Instead, the sophomore quarterback rallied his team around him as they charged down the field to score just a minute and a half later, then once more after a successful onside kick. The scoreboard read 28-27 in Montrose’s favor with 1:43 remaining, which didn’t leave the Tigers too many options.
Barnett told his team, “I’ll win this game if you give me the ball.” The seniors around him didn’t let the moment go to waste as they prepared to attempt a 2-point conversion.
“I remember going down the field, Ryan McConnell gave such an inspirational speech,” Barnett recalled. “He brought us into the huddle. I don’t really remember what he said but he told us, ‘This season’s been amazing and whatever happens, I love you guys. Let’s go win this game.’
“We went down there, I snapped the ball on sound and I was going to go (on an inside run). Caleb Theisen told me to go in but then everything kind of crashed, so I went outside. I think I could have gone in just running it, but I did the dive. I went in and I don’t even remember how it was, but looking back on it and looking back on the film, I saw the crowd and everybody going crazy.”
That play helped seal Erie’s bid for the 4A state title game, where it eventually fell to Chatfield in an equally thrilling, 41-34 finish. The Tigers, though filled to the brim with talent across the board, couldn’t have done it without their leading man in the pocket. And he made quite the leap from his freshman to sophomore seasons.
For his leadership and skill set put on full display in 2021, Barnett is the BoCoPreps.com offensive player of the year.
As a high school newcomer in 2020, Barnett played just three games, throwing for 336 yards and six touchdowns while also accounting for three rushing scores and another 300-plus yards.
The 2021 schedule provided a full slate of games for the young buck, and he excelled in every single one of them as he aggregated 27 passing touchdowns, 2,560 passing yards, 24 rushing touchdowns and 1,049 yards on the ground.
“Everything became so much easier, slower. The game slowed down and I was able to make smart reads,” Barnett said. “I remember freshman year, when I played, I was like a one-read quarterback, then I’d kind of get out of the pocket and run. Now, I was able to stay in the pocket a little bit more.”
Warrior Football’s Warren McCarty made all the difference in Barnett’s progression as he saw it all come together for him during a 7-on-7 tournament over the summer. The program prides itself on running collegiate and NFL route concepts and read progressions.
The athleticism and talent were already there. McCarty just needed to nurture the mental side of the game.
“He really struggled early and then we had our first tournament and then our second tournament,” McCarty said. “By the third tournament, the light bulb, it was fully on. You could just see it in his eyes. He knew what he was looking at and he knew what the answers were and he was just throwing dimes. … By our second tournament in Philadelphia in early May, he was fully engaged and just out there playing at such a high level. To see what he did this fall was not at all surprising because I saw that the light bulb was on.”
Once it came on, it never flickered.
Not when Montrose tested the Tigers for the first time all season, and not when Chatfield picked him off during the state title game. He kept his composure. He never faltered.
“A lot of 15-year-old kids throw that first interception down in the red zone, they would have a (freaking) meltdown … or suddenly get so conservative that they just want to chuck down to the 5-yard hitch and not make a mistake,” McCarty said. “For Blake, he was unfazed on a huge stage in an NFL stadium, state title on the line and he brought his team back. That’s not what a normal 15-year-old does.”
If Barnett proved anything this season, it’s that he’s far from what would be considered a normal 15-year-old. Just imagine what he’ll be able to do as an upperclassman next year.