FORT COLLINS — Blake Barnett finished his high school career as a one-legged Superman and, more importantly, as a state champion.
“This was a true fairytale, and I don’t think I could have asked for a better ending,” the flamboyant and ultra-confident senior quarterback said after No. 2 Erie beat top-ranked Palmer Ridge, 20-6, Saturday to win the Class 4A title at Canvas Stadium.
With his sprained left ankle heavily taped, Barnett, ever the showstopper and usually faster than a speeding bullet, hopped 35 yards downfield on his right leg to wrap running back Braylon Toliver in an end zone bearhug after Toliver rambled for a game-clinching 32-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Moments after the clock struck zero, Barnett hopped to the sidelines, hoisted himself onto a bench and conducted the jubilant Erie crowd in a postgame symphony. Next, Barnett hopped to the stands where his father, Steve, hoisted him up the wall for another victory hug.
“The way a lot of people want to portray Blake, he would have stayed over there on the sidelines and pouted and cried when he got hurt,” said Erie coach Jeff Giger, who led the Tigers to their first football crown since they won the Class-A championship in 1997. “But he went back out there on the field and toughed it out.”
Barnett, who’s headed to Kansas State on a football scholarship, was unstoppable for most of three quarters before injuring his ankle when he was tackled on the sidelines with 2:20 left in the third.
“They checked to see if I had a broken bone, and once they said it wasn’t broken, they said, ‘We can tape you up and see how tough you are,’” Barnett said. “I couldn’t run, but I knew I could still throw, so there was no way I wasn’t going back out there.”
Barnett finished with 77 yards rushing and a touchdown on 20 carries. He threw for 151 yards and a touchdown, completing 15 of 20 passes. He connected on his first nine passes. Playing free safety, he also intercepted a Palmer Ridge throw in the end zone.
Erie (13-1) had to conquer its demons to win the title. The Tigers suffered a painful 41-34 loss to Chatfield in the 2021 Class 4A title game, and a goal-line fumble by Barnett in the final seconds cost them in last year’s 36-32 semifinal loss against eventual state champion Broomfield.
“To finally be able to win it, it’s a surreal feeling,” said senior defensive lineman Jackson Cowgill, who’s headed to Washington State. “I’m so proud of this team. I’ve watched each and every one of these boys get better every year.”
Added Barnett: “After losing that state championship two years ago, I think this is the greatest feeling I’ve had in my life. We finally did it.”
Although Barnett was named the National Football Foundation’s Most Outstanding Player of the game, Erie’s defense was the co-star. It limited the prolific Palmer Ridge offense to 282 yards, including just 85 in the first half. The Tigers intercepted Bears senior quarterback Derek Hester three times, getting fourth-quarter picks by Noah Garcia and Kaveh Meredith to go along with Barnett’s second-quarter theft.
“Our defensive staff did such a great job putting our plan together and then our kids executed it so well,” Giger said. “Their quarterback is such a threat, but I thought we did a good job keeping him under control.”
Palmer Ridge, which finished its season 13-1, opened the game with a strong drive but ended up missing a 48-yard field goal into a stiff wind. Erie immediately countered with a 12-play, 80-yard TD drive, topped off with an 11-yard pass from Barnett, who rolled right and drilled the ball to Josh Levine in the end zone.
Barnett accounted for 74 yards on the drive, rushing for 48 and throwing for 26.
Erie took a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter, this time with an impressive 64-yard drive. Barnett swan-dived into the end zone to complete his 5-yard TD touchdown.
The Bears responded with a 47-yard kickoff return by James “Jimmer” Weir and marched to the Erie 6-yard line before Barnett picked off Hester 3 yards deep in the end zone and ran it back to the 50.
Palmer Ridge’s only score came early in the fourth quarter. On a second-and-two from the 30, Hester threw a perfect pass to Weir, who got wide open behind the Erie secondary.
“They’ve done everything that we’ve asked for this season,” Bears coach Zach Carlton said. “They bought into everything that we wanted them to buy into, and I just really feel for those guys that we couldn’t finish the job today.”
In large measure because Barnett was just too good. He finished his career with a remarkable 159 career touchdowns, 89 passing and 69 rushing.
“I’ve been playing with Blake since the fifth grade when we were in Erie Youth Football together and we four-peated,” Cowgill said. “He’s pushed me in more ways than I can say, both mentally and physically. And he worked his (butt) off, and he’s been such a great friend. I’m so proud of him.”