Bulldogs’ kickoff return team key heading into 3A playoff game

Palisade’s Ronald Kuntz is the main threat on the Bulldogs’ kickoff return team. Palisade is averaging 34.4 yards per return.


Palisade vs. Silver Creek

Class 3A Playoffs

Friday, 7 p.m., Stocker Stadium

RADIO: 1340-AM (KTMM); 95.1.FM (KKNN)

RECORDS: Palisade (9-1, 6-1 Western Slope Conference); Silver Creek (7-3, 3-2 Northern).

LAST WEEK: Palisade defeated Delta 28-14; Silver Creek lost to Roosevelt 34-21.

GAME NOTES: Silver Creek High School opened its doors in 2001 and has qualified for the postseason twice, most recently in 2005. Palisade has qualified for the postseason every year since 1999, but the Bulldogs haven’t made it out of the first round the past two seasons. The Raptors are pass-oriented, with junior quarterback Austin Apodaca throwing for 2,005 yards and 23 touchdowns this season. Apodaca’s main target is Ryan Rankin, who leads the team with 46 catches and eight touchdowns.

Palisade quarterback Luke McLean averaged 150 yards rushing the final two games of the regular season.

“We have to control the ball and get some movement,” Palisade coach John Arledge said. “We need to beat their size with toughness.”

Palisade High School has a well-rounded football team.

Entering Friday night’s Class 3A first-round playoff game against No. 13 Silver Creek (7-3), the No. 4 Bulldogs (9-1) are scoring 37 points per game and giving up only 13.

One area that has been a bit overlooked this season is Palisade’s special teams, most notably the Bulldogs’ kickoff return team.

“We work on it every day and our kids believe in it,” Palisade coach John Arledge said. “We block it hard, the runners run hard and good things happen when it all comes together.”

Palisade has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and is averaging 34.4 yards per return. The main threat in the Bulldogs’ return game is Ronald Kuntz.

The 6-foot, 160-pound junior’s first return of the season started the season on a high note.

Against Central, Kuntz took the opening kickoff 69 yards. The Bulldogs didn’t score on the drive, but it helped give Palisade the confidence to defeat Class 5A Central 30-14.

“That was exactly how I wanted to start the season,” Kuntz said. “I got it close to the 20, but stumbled and got caught.”

Kuntz got his first touchdown the next week against D’Evelyn.

The Bulldogs were trailing the Jaguars, who were ranked No. 2 in the state at the time, by a touchdown. Kuntz had a 96-yard kickoff return that sent the Bulldogs on their way to a 36-29 road victory.

Palisade offensive coordinator Matt Borgmann also coaches the kickoff return unit.

“Kuntz is a running back, so he knows how to hit a seam and he can see angles and change direction,” Borgmann said. “He’s used to carrying the ball, so you know he’s not going to drop it.”

The scheme isn’t something new to the program. When Borgmann was in his first year on the Palisade staff in 2004, the kickoff return team was his only varsity responsibility.

Borgmann implemented the scheme in the second game of the season against Steamboat Springs, and Kyle Britton returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ 35-28 win.

“It’s been great for us,” Borgmann said. “If we can get it on a catch or on a good bounce we can average the 30-35-yard line and it’s been that way since we’ve been running it.”

The formation is a 5-2-2-2, with five players lined up 10 yards from the ball. Two more are lined up parallel to one another, spaced out over the next 40 yards.

Alongside Kuntz is senior Rasjon Buford, who hasn’t had as many returns, but still makes a difference when he gets the ball.

In the Bulldogs’ third game of the season against Roaring Fork, Buford returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.

Kuntz is averaging 34 yards per return, Buford 33.

Kuntz said it doesn’t matter who gets the ball on kickoffs, because the mentality is the same.

“We hit the hole as fast as we can,” Kuntz said. “We both have to have some courage to trust our blockers and hit it hard.”

The Bulldogs showed just how dangerous the return can be in the regular season finale against Delta. On the opening kickoff, Jamr Rhodes, one of the players in front of Kuntz and Buford, scooped up a squib kick and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown.

“We have four or five kids that can do it,” Arledge said. “Last week Jamr took it all the way because the principles are the same. Everyone has to do their jobs.”


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