Palmer Ridge junior quarterback Ty Evans ended an up-and-down week with the highest of highs.
After taking a hard hit that briefly knocked him out of the Bears’ semifinal win over Palisade last Saturday and decommitting from Arkansas the next day, Evans avoided distraction and any lingering pain to help Palmer Ridge capture its first state football championship Saturday with a 46-21 win over Erie in the Class 3A state championship game at Air Force's Falcon Stadium.
“There was a lot of things going through my mind, I’m going to be honest, but I just decided myself that I was going to forget all of that and focus on the game,” Evans said. “My team deserves my 100 percent focus.”
Evans appeared to be dialed in, throwing for three touchdowns and running in a fourth. After the Bears huddled around their newest piece of hardware, Evans accepted the game’s most outstanding player award.
“For him to come out and perform the way that he did today - a play breaks down here by the end zone, and he’s able to scramble in and get that done – I’m so proud of him,” Bears coach Tom Pulford said. “I’m so proud of the way he leads this team.”
The quarterback’s big game started early.
Anticipating an aggressive start from the Tiger defense, Palmer Ridge offensive coordinator Darren Grob dialed up a deep shot after the Bears’ defense forced a three-and-out on the first drive of the game.
“Coach Grob does an excellent job of putting our kids in a position to go make plays,” Pulford said.
After recognizing single coverage on one of his big-play receivers, Evans hit sophomore Deuce Roberson II in stride on a post route. The Bears had a 7-0 lead 56 yards and a couple of seconds later.
“I knew he was going to go out there and make a play, because that’s what he does,” Evans said.
Another defensive stop set up another Bears scoring drive, which was finished by Noah Brom’s short touchdown run, and Palmer Ridge took what looked to be a commanding 14-0 lead midway through the opening quarter.
The Tigers used a fourth-down stop to set up their first scoring drive. Then they recovered a fumble that set up a wild 25-yard touchdown pass from Noah Roper, who entered the game as Erie’s primary running back but shifted to quarterback after Dion Lucero exited with an early injury, to tie the game at 14 midway through the second quarter.
The teams traded possessions before Evans and Roberson connected for a second touchdown, this one a well-placed pass between two Erie defenders that allowed Roberson to race 70 yards for the go-ahead score later in the second quarter.
A strip-sack and recovery inside the Erie 20 set up Raef Ruel’s 5-yard touchdown run less than a minute before halftime.
“All three phases executed,” Palmer Ridge senior receiver and safety Cory McLellan said. “I feel like we’ve done a great job of doing that all year, but today, all three phases really showed up.”
The Bears defense pitched a shutout after Roper rushed for a second touchdown in the third quarter, and got some help from special teams. Roberson returned the following kickoff into Erie territory, setting up Evans’ touchdown pass to Andrew Miller.
After a quick defensive stop, Palmer Ridge’s Garrett Marchetti blocked a punt that Miller recovered in the end zone to put the Bears up 39-21 late in the third quarter.
Evans hit McLellan down the sideline in the final minutes before rushing for the game’s final score.
After his big game, Evans was quick to share the praise with the rest of the offensive unit.
“Raef was running the ball hard,” Evans said. “The offensive line was blocking for us, and the receivers were doing their job. That’s why we put some points on the board.”
Now Evans will have some time to consider his college decision; a four-touchdown, zero-turnover state-title game won’t hurt his prospects.
Evans’ performance helped write an ending that the Bears were hoping for from the season’s outset, but finishing the 14-0 season was better than they could’ve imagined.
“It’s perfect,” McLellan said. “There’s no other word.”