Hoaglund’s heroics boost Bulldogs
$ID/[No paragraph style]Nothing10Utopia StdGrayPalisade's 'bell cow' QB shakes off leg injury in playoff win
The effort level for Levi Hoaglund on Saturday probably fell somewhere between exceptional and Herculean.
It took a little bit of everything from Hoaglund — a forced fumble, an interception, two touchdowns on the ground and another through the air — but the senior quarterback and defensive back carried the second-seeded Palisade High School football team to a 35-25 comeback win over No. 15 Lutheran during the first round of the Class 3A playoffs at Stocker Stadium.
The Bulldogs were down 13-0 early in second quarter, and they looked thoroughly beaten.
Lutheran running back Jamil Bond had ripped off 104 yards on 17 carries in the first half, and the Bulldogs were missing star running back Dalton Hannigan, who rolled his right ankle during Friday’s practice.
With the Bulldogs’ offense stalling, it came as no surprise to Palisade coach Joe Ramunno that Hoaglund was the one to jump-start the offense. Hoaglund exited for one series in the first half with a left leg injury. The drive ended in a fumble and a Lutheran score, then Hoaglund returned and lit a fire under the team.
“He’s our bell cow,” Ramunno said. “That’s why it was so detrimental for us when he went down there. We didn’t know what would become of it. But when he went back out there, our guys really rallied around him, and he’s the guy that gets them going.”
Hoaglund, who also punts, booted the ball from near midfield deep into Lutheran territory with roughly five minutes left in the half. The Lions’ return man made one cut and danced up the left sideline, evading the Palisade kick coverage.
Trailing behind the play was Hoaglund — the last chance to stop the return — and he stood up the return man, shoved his right forearm deep into the ball carrier’s grasp, placed his left hand on the outside of the ball and pulled.
Out came the ball, firmly in Hoaglund’s possession, and the momentum shifted to Palisade.
The next play, Hoaglund hit Austin Terry for a 39-yard completion. On the next play, Hoaglund pinballed into the end zone from 2 yards out for a touchdown. After a three-and-out for Lutheran, Hoaglund led a four-play, 56-yard drive, capped with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Trevor Garcia to grab the lead less than two minutes before halftime.
After Lutheran quarterback James Willis hit Josh Clausen for a 41-yard gain that put the Lions’ in the red zone, Hoaglund went airborne to snag an overthrown ball on a post route into the end zone.
During the second half, as Palisade tried to control the clock, it was Hoaglund who got the lion’s share of the carries. He finished with 110 yards on 24 carries.
“It felt like once we got the ball back we could be physical, and that got us going,” Hoaglund said.
Hoaglund was aided offensively by a slew of runners. In Hannigan’s absence, Terry was the feature back with 110 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns. Joshua Hovis added 60 yards on six carries.
Terry said Hannigan was the one who motivated him during the game.
“Basically, D told me that, ‘Hey man, I know you’re good, you just haven’t gotten the touches,’ ” Terry said. “And my line did a great job. They opened up holes for everybody. I mean we have juniors and sophomores and just back after back after back. Our line did an amazing job of opening up holes for everyone. Huge holes. I just had to pick one.”
Despite the Bulldogs’ three interceptions, the secondary struggled to contain Clausen. The junior wide receiver and tight end scorched Palisade for 212 yards receiving and one touchdown.
Clausen lined up in the slot or as a tight end and ran a seam route right between the safeties. Willis missed Clausen on multiple occasions, with Clausen picking up only six receptions on a dozen targets.
But when Willis found Clausen, like he did on their 80-yard touchdown connection in the third quarter, they were devastating.
Willis finished with nine completions on 20 attempts for 271 yards passing and a touchdown.
Ramunno said defending him was a catch-22. If Palisade softened up its defensive front to double up Clausen, Bond ran wild.
Either way, Clausen and Bond excelled, with Bond finishing with 177 yards rushing on 29 carries.
Despite a bend-don’t-break attitude leading to turnovers for Palisade, Ramunno said the secondary will need to improve.
“Well, we’ve got to get some more coverage on a guy like him,” Ramunno said. “We were trying to get some more coverage on him. I know it looked like sometimes we weren’t, but we’ve got some secondary things to work on after that, and I know a lot of that will just be getting reps at that.
“They have that great running game on top of that, and that’s where you really get that double-edged sword.”
Palisade will host The Classical Academy in the second round after the No. 7 Titans topped No. 10 Conifer 14-12 on Saturday.
Palisade is the highest seed left in the Class 3A playoffs after No. 16 Pueblo East thrashed top-seeded Discovery Canyon 47-13.
“The 3A field is very, very good and as a staff we looked at it and felt that any of the 16 teams were very, very good,” Ramunno said. “When you see the matchups that are going on and some of the things that happened during the season, you know with eight teams, any one (of the teams) can win this thing. You just have to be lucky and stay healthy, and man, you’ve got a chance.”