For all the positive steps Harrison took in racing out to the program’s first 8-0 start, one thing rang loud and clear Friday.
The Panthers are still a distant second to South Central league foe Pueblo East.
And after this one, it’s not even close.
The Eagles (4-5, 4-0) took advantage of a variety of early miscues to score on three of their first four possessions in building a 25-point lead in the first quarter and cruised past the Panthers, 46-14 to win the league title and clinch a spot in the playoffs.
“We hadn’t turned the ball over since the third week of the season, and we turned it over three times tonight,” Panthers (8-1, 3-1) coach Al Melo said. “When that happens, you’re going to lose. They were more ready to play than we were and they kicked our butts. There’s nothing else we can say.”
Luc Andrada threw for 141 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more, Kain Medrano returned a fumble for a touchdown and added another through the air, and the three-time 3A defending state champs made an emphatic statement, ending Harrison’s program-best eight-game winning streak while the Eagles won their fourth in a row after an 0-5 start.
“We knew Harrison was a solid team, but we also knew they hadn’t played a team like us,” said Andrada, a junior who led the Eagles to a 35-6 win over Discovery Canyon last December at District 20 Stadium for the state championship. “They weren’t an easy opponent to prepare for because of how explosive they are on both sides of the ball. We prepared right and we showed it. Nothing really went wrong, and this is just what we needed going into the playoffs.”
In a span of 8 minutes, 52 seconds in the first quarter, East took control and essentially put away the game.
First, Luis Martinez ended a short, four-play drive with a 19-yard run on East’s opening series, then a bad snap on a punt following a Harrison three-and-out gave the Eagles the ball at the Panthers 14.
From there, Andrada hooked up with Medrano for a 21-yard touchdown to make it a 14-0 lead with 5:45 left.
Then, it got worse for Harrison when kick returner Darius Cheatam muffed the ensuing kickoff at the Harrison 2, then took the ball into the end zone, thinking he could down it there and get the ball at the 20.
Instead, it was a safety. Then a field goal made it 19-0.
Even after Harrison held on the ensuing drive after Rostel Lattimore forced an Andrada fumble on a blind-side hit, the Panthers gave it back on the next play. Quarterback Orlando Westbrook rolled out to his right, had the ball jarred loose, and Medrano scooped it up and raced 32 yards for a touchdown.
Panthers junior running back Aumiere Shedrick got Harrison on the board just before halftime, his 48-yard run reducing the deficit to 25-6 after the missed extra point and perhaps giving his team some momentum heading into the second half.
But Harrison couldn’t build on any positive energy it might have had following the break, with East answering with an Andrada 17-yard touchdown run and a 13-yard scoring strike to Marcus Winston that made it a 39-7 game.
Shedrick added a 69-yard scoring bust, but like before, Andrada engineered another scoring drive to retake the momentum.
Those two runs accounted for 117 yards. The Panthers got only 29 from their other 37 plays.
“We’ll regroup and watch film and get ready to work,” Melo said. “We’ve got one more to play, and we’ll see what happens.”