Palmer Ridge’s 12th victory of the season was its sweetest.
The Bears repeated as Class 3A state champions Saturday with a wild 47-38 victory over Pueblo East on a cold and windy day at Colorado State University-Pueblo’s ThunderBowl.
“I’m still trying to get a feel for this because I’ve never won two in a row,” said Palmer Ridge junior slot back Anthony “Deuce” Roberson in the midst of the postgame celebration in the south end zone. “Winning the first one was amazing, but this season we had to fight a lot harder.”
Roberson was one of six Bears to score a touchdown in the game, that at first glance, seemed to be dominated by offense. His score came on a 25-yard interception return — one of two pick 6’s thrown by Pueblo East senior quarterback Luc Andrada — at the 10:41 mark of the second quarter and gave Palmer Ridge a 21-6 lead. It was the fourth time this season Roberson returned an interception for a touchdown.
Roberson’s touchdown came just six seconds after Bears junior running back Raef Ruel scored on a four-yard run. Ruel scored three touchdowns on the day to raise his season total to 20. He was named the game’s MVP.
Andrada’s second interception also resulted in a touchdown. It came 25 seconds after a Ruel 11-yard touchdown run in the fourth that gave the Bears a 33-32 lead. With 7:12 remaining, Andrada tried to throw a short pass to his right, but Bears senior defensive end Aidan Cullen reached out and snatched the ball and returned it 22 yards into the end zone.
“That’s been a dream of mine for a while,” said Cullen, a Colorado State commit. “A touchdown on defense. A pick 6 like that. Guys like JJ Watt do that all the time. He’s my idol. It’s just so emotional doing it myself.”
Also scoring touchdowns for the Bears were junior tailback Noah Brom (his sixth this season) and senior quarterback Ty Evans (his 11th on the ground).
Evans, who is expected to sign his national letter of intent with Colorado on Dec. 19 was held without a touchdown pass for the second consecutive week. He completed 14 of 25 passes for 185 yards and no interceptions. When the two clubs met earlier this fall, Evans threw five interceptions during a 28-21 Pueblo East victory.
The Bears dropped to 1-2 with that loss, but reeled off 11 consecutive victories to close out the season.
“This is a great way to end my high school career,” said Evans, who threw for nearly 2,700 yards and 33 touchdowns this season. “More importantly, we came out here today and we played as brothers. State championship aside, these guys mean way more than this trophy will ever mean.”
Evans directed the Bears to four playoff wins despite a torn MCL he suffered during a 42-0 victory over Discovery Canyon in the final regular season game. In that contest, he came off the field late in the fourth after being tackled and was treated on the trainer’s table for several minutes. There was concern then that he might have knee damage and it was confirmed the next day. But he and the rest of the team kept things quiet.
Palmer Ridge and Pueblo East have combined to win the last five 3A state championships. Pueblo East won three consecutive titles from 2014-16. The Bears went 14-0 in 2017.
Ruel, who rushed for nearly 1,300 yards this season — on the heels of 1,075 and 22 touchdowns his junior year — is one of several skilled position players on the team who could have a chance for a threepeat in 2019.
“If we work as hard as we did this year I think we can do it again,” he said.
The Bears were honored during a school assembly Tuesday. It was the second time the school celebrated the team in a victory party.
Palmer Ridge has compiled a 42-9 record since the start of the 2015 season and has made the playoffs four consecutive years. Its postseason record is 9-2 over that span.