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Erie High School's Blake Barnett (No. ...
Erie’s Blake Barnett will get a chance to match up once again against the talented Broomfield defense this Saturday in the Class 4A state playoffs. The teams played on Sept. 16, with Broomfield winning 35-14. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

The last time Erie and Broomfield football met, Erie looked much different than it does today.

Leading up to that fourth week of the season, the Tigers (9-4) had struggled to find much consistency with a 1-2 record. Still, they handed the Eagles (12-0) one of their more competitive games with a 35-14 loss.

That contest seemed to turn the tides for the Tigers, who spent the rest of the season winning eight out of nine, including seven straight. They earned the No. 11 seed for the Class 4A state playoffs and have spent every day since proving why they deserved a little more respect.

So far, they’ve systematically eliminated No. 22 Air Academy, No. 6 Denver South and No. 3 Ponderosa. To further illuminate their growth from day one, they avenged their season-opening, 39-27 loss to Ponderosa with a 43-25 smackdown and 35 unanswered points over the Mustangs during the quarterfinals last week.

Now, they get to test their capabilities against the second-seeded Eagles, once again, during their semifinal matchup at Elizabeth Kennedy Stadium. The Eagles, still perfect, have blasted their first two playoff opponents with 42-0 and 46-0 campaigns. They refused to allow even a single point.

What, you may ask, will be different this time around? Let’s take a look at those two Ponderosa matchups.

In game one, Erie’s junior quarterback threw 10-for-23 with 113 yards and two touchdowns as the Tigers — namely Barnett and senior Trey Khanna — ran 224 more for just one more score. The defense recorded three sacks and an interception.

Fast forward 12 weeks.

When the two teams came face-to-face last Saturday, the Tigers shifted away from the passing game and put more emphasis on the run. Barnett threw 90 yards and connected with senior Caden Lettis for one score, then added three more with his own two feet. Barnett personally ran 106 yards as sophomore Ronin Ward added 132 and his own touchdown. Sophomore Gavin Lusk touched the end zone once more.

The biggest difference, however, came on the defensive end. The Tigers picked off Ponderosa quarterback Zach Stryker four times in the second half alone thanks to Barnett, Preston Terranova and Braylon Toliver.

Such a performance was reminiscent of the pain Broomfield has continually caused its opponents all season long.

To date, the Eagles have scored 513 points while allowing just 99. Their offense has been prolific, sure, but their defense has been the real story. Just look at last week’s rematch against Heritage who, on its home field just three weeks earlier, held the Eagles to their season-low score of 17 points.

Since the clock struck zero on that final regular season game, the Eagles insisted they didn’t play well. Clearly, they were right.

Last Saturday, on their home turf, the Eagles enjoyed two touchdowns in the air and another two on the ground, but the real flair came on the defensive end. Sophomore Mikhail Benner, who gave Heritage a migraine all day long, picked off three passes and returned two for touchdowns. Senior Canon Juarez added his own jaw-dropping pick six from 109 — yes, 109 — yards out.

Only time will tell how much the Tigers and Eagles have progressed since their first meeting on Sept. 16, but one thing is certain. Whoever emerges victorious on Saturday afternoon will get the chance to play for a Class 4A state championship at Empower Field at Mile High on Dec. 3 against either No. 1 Palmer Ridge or No. 4 Loveland.

Kickoff this Saturday is set for 1 p.m.

Broomfield High School's Cole LaCrue (No. ...
Broomfield High School’s Cole LaCrue (No. 18) runs the ball while chased by Erie High School’s Jackson Cowgill (No. 54) on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)