There's a little bit of a buzz surrounding the Pueblo East High School football team. It's the kind of buzz the Rifle Bears are all too familiar with.
"This is a pretty neat experience for our school," Pueblo East coach David Ramirez said. "There's a lot of excitement right now."
Of course, a high school's football team coming within a win of reaching the state championship game is a reason for any student body to be excited. But the Eagles, thanks to their 35-24 victory over Delta this past Saturday, are making their first football semifinal appearance in school history.
And for that first appearance, the Eagles (10-2) will host a top-ranked team from Rifle (12-0) which has established itself as one of the more successful programs in Colorado. Game time for the Class 3A semifinal will be 1 p.m. Saturday at 14,000-seat Dutch Clark Stadium.
Rifle, which won the 3A state championship in 2004 and reached the 3A title game in 2005, has been in the postseason all but three seasons since 1995. Last season was the first time Rifle had reached the 3A playoffs in three years. The Bears reached the state quarterfinals before falling to eventual state champion Windsor.
The Eagles, however, came into the season following a 6-4 campaign and are making their first playoff appearance since 2008. According to the Pueblo Chieftain, they've done it with a coach who, after a one-season hiatus from coaching imposed by his school district, gained some extra experience as a volunteer assistant at Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2011.
"That gave me a chance to learn at the college level," said Ramirez, who is also a teacher at Pueblo East. "But my passion has always been at the high school level. This gave me a chance to grow professionally."
The Eagles have grown on offense this season, and their 38.8 point-per-game average is second in 3A only to Rifle's 43.6 point average. The difference, however, is that both teams have done it in extremely different ways.
Rifle brings in the classification's leading rushing attack. The Bears average 364.3 yards per game - 9.5 yards per carry - and their 4,372 rushing yards as a team is second in the state only to Class 4A Pueblo West (5,080 rushing yards in 12 games). Their leading rusher, senior Ryan Moeller, has ran for 2,652 yards and 38 touchdowns on 221 carries for a Colorado-best rushing average of 11.68 yards per carry.
The Eagles, however, have done very well throwing the football all year. Their quarterback, senior Kurt Rode, is 154-for-244 passing (63.1 percent) for 2,491 yards with 24 touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
East can run the ball, too, as Derion Ibarra's 1,312 yards on 223 carries leads the team. The Eagles, however, have four different wide receivers who have at least 20 catches this year, including Alex Mestas (20), Jimmy Valdez (31), Felix Mestas (41) and Joe DeTello (33).
Roosevelt used an effective fourth-quarter passing game to almost tie Rifle in the waning seconds last week, throwing for 177 yards in the fourth quarter. Rifle coach Damon Wells feels his team will be ready this time around.
"Roosevelt had a really successful fourth quarter - really half of a fourth quarter - throwing the football," the coach said. "And to be honest, it's probably the best thing that could have happened to us. They challenged us physically and they challenged us scheme wise, but we realized there were some things we could get better at."