Palmer Ridge football

The Palmer Ridge Bears celebrate their victory over the Pueblo South Colts with a group photo after the Class 3A state football championship game at CSU-Pueblo's Neta & Eddie DeRose Thunderbowl Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. The Bears won their third consecutive state title by defeating the Colts 35-13.(Chancey Bush, The Gazette)

PUEBLO — As the Palmer Ridge football team celebrated yet another Class 3A championship Saturday afternoon, one question was looming above CSU-Pueblo's Neta & Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl.

Even one group of Palmer Ridge fans asked this question as they were leaving the stadium.

Can they do it again next year?

Yes, the Bears are moving up a classification after dominating for the past three seasons. They won three state titles and suffered just four losses during this reign. Are they ready for the next level?

Short answer: Yes.

"I know it's going to be a great challenge ahead of us," Palmer Ridge coach Tom Pulford said. "We have to make sure we recruit the halls and get things done in the offseason. But to be honest, I haven't put a lot of thought beyond that."

Earlier this year, the Colorado High School Activities Association came up with a classification and league realignment and placed the Bears in the 4A Southern 1 Conference with familiar foes such as Air Academy and Vista Ridge. The move was based on enrollment numbers along with competitive balance in each conference, geography, success/non-success and school participation percentage.

This won't be the first time Palmer Ridge played in a higher classification.

The Bears competed in 4A from 2012-15 and went a combined 21-21. In their final season at that classification, they made it to the playoffs and lost in the quarterfinals to eventual state champion Windsor.

Palmer Ridge has fared better in 3A, highlighted by postseason appearances in 2010, '11, '16, '17, '18 and this year. Pulford has been part of the program as an assistant or head coach since 2008.

Of course, the Bears were busy celebrating another state title to think too much about next season. But when asked about their future, they simply shook it off as just another challenge.

"Nothing will change," said junior quarterback Luke McAllister, who was named Saturday's MVP. "We have a lot of great players returning. We're going to practice hard this offseason, probably harder than ever. We love a challenge and we're looking forward to it."

Reporter

Chhun Sun is a sports reporter with an emphasis in preps. He joined The Gazette in April 2015 and covered public safety for three years before joining @gazettepreps staff. The Thailand-born Cambodian-American has been in journalism for nearly two decades.