Palmer Ridge seniors ready to make history in their final game in a Bears football uniform

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Photo - Palmer Ridge seniors Nathan Holmes (13), Tate Glen (45) and Drew Miller (16) sing the Palmer Ridge fight song after a 3A semifinal win over Palisade, clinching the program's first ever trip to the state championships. (Lindsey Smith, The Gazette)
Palmer Ridge seniors Nathan Holmes (13), Tate Glen (45) and Drew Miller (16) sing the Palmer Ridge fight song after a 3A semifinal win over Palisade, clinching the program's first ever trip to the state championships. (Lindsey Smith, The Gazette)

A disappointing season in 2012 changed the mindset of the Palmer Ridge football team.

After going 2-8 in coach Tom Pulford’s first year, the Bears went on a mission to become the best team in the state.

Flash forward five years, and they are nearly there.

Heading into the 3A state championship game Saturday at Air Force's Falcon Stadium, the 13-0 Bears are ready to face a tough Erie squad - the last team standing in their way from a perfect season and the program’s first state championship.

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But for the 11 seniors on the squad, who had an immense role in building the Bears from a non-playoff team in 2014 to state title contenders, Saturday is not only a chance to make history, but it’s also their last game in a navy and gold uniform.

“It’s really a blessing and a curse because the whole mentality is, you never know when it’s going to be your last week, but we’ve come to this point and it really is going to be our last week,” senior Drew Miller said. “It’s really bittersweet that we know that we are here at this point, because we have a good opportunity to win, but we also know it’s going to be our last game ever and I like stepping on this field. It’s heartbreaking but it’s all worth it in the end.”

Pulford’s goal each year is for his players to leave the program better than the year before, and the Class of 2018, much like the seniors that have come before them, have left a lasting impression.

“It always starts at the beginning,” senior Zach Hester said. “My freshman year, those seniors set a precedent, and I think really my sophomore year, those seniors really brought our energy up and they really, I think, they are what influenced us seniors to bring everyone with us.”

Now, Hester, Miller and the nine other senior Bears - Cameron Colangelo, Cory McLellan, Dom Loureiro, Calvin Grider, Tate Glen, Josh Boles, Matthew Farmer, Jeffrey Dunston and Nathan Holmes - will battle Saturday to bring home a state championship and influence the next group of seniors to build the legacy.

“This group of seniors raised the level of commitment, and they embraced their opportunity to lead and they’ve made the most of it,” Pulford said. “They’ve got one more game to leave a precedent. Go out there and execute on the field, and continue what they’ve done up to this point by leading by example.”

TIGERS-BEARS AT A GLANCE

Game data: No. 5 Erie Tigers (11-2) vs. No. 2 Palmer Ridge Bears (13-0) … Class 3A State Championship game … Saturday,  1 p.m. at Falcon Stadium.

Media: Follow @ChhunSun, @VBenedetto and @davidlukeramsey on Twitter for updates from the game. Visit GazettePreps.com for stories, highlight videos, photos and more.

Scouting the Tigers: Erie has a threatening run game which has put up more than 3,350 yards this season. A majority of those rushing yards come from Noah Roper, a junior who leads the state in rushing yards with 2,537 yards.

The Tiger offense has just 922 passing yards on the season, led by sophomore quarterback Dion Lucero with 710 yards and 47 completions. Erie averages just 66.5 passing yards per game, compared to 257.9 yards on the ground.

Roper also leads the team in tackles with 57, followed by Ian McDonald with 47 total tackles.

Scouting the Bears: For the third straight week, the Bears will face a high-powered run game, so it’s business as usual for the strong Palmer Ridge defense.

Last week the Bears held Palisade to 14 points and just 269 rushing yards, and did not allow a completion the entire game. Colton Dill and Zach Hester led the way for the Palmer Ridge defense with eight tackles each. Hester also had two sacks, while Dill registered one.

Despite going down in the second quarter with a left-arm injury, Evans returned in the second half and continued his impressive junior campaign. Evans completed 10 for 14 for 108 yards. But last week’s offensive standout was sophomore Raef Ruel, who had the best game of his career with 169 yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns.