Turnovers doom Bulldogs in loss to Wildcats

PUEBLO — Every time the football slipped loose, Palisade High School’s chances of pulling off the biggest upset possible in the first round of the Class 3A state football playoffs grew more and more slim.

In the end, five turnovers were simply too much to overcome.

The Bulldogs’ season ended Saturday afternoon at a drizzly Dutch Clark Stadium with a 34-0 loss to top-seeded Pueblo Central. The Wildcats (11-0) play at No. 9 Delta (9-2) in the quarterfinals. No. 16 Palisade wrapped up its season 6-5.

“It’s very frustrating for all of us, especially our seniors,” Bulldogs senior quarterback Jordan Salazar said. “None of us played our best game and it all ends right here.”

Palisade couldn’t protect the football, couldn’t contain Central tailback Keanu Valdez and only mustered 157 yards of total offense, a recipe for Saturday’s blowout.

“The other team made the plays. I give them credit for that,” Bulldogs coach John Arledge said. “They have some good kids and they won. That’s just the way it is.”

Palisade turned the ball over on three fumbles, one interception and a muffed punt. The Wildcats capitalized on three of those turnovers for 20 points, including twice for 13 in the first half as they built up a 27-0 lead.

The defense held on the opening possession but a muff on the ensuing punt led to Central’s first score on Valdez’s 21-yard run. Three plays later, Salazar fumbled the snap, the ‘Cats recovered and quarterback Max Lerille found a wide-open Daniel Vidana with a 17-yard touchdown pass.

Palisade’s offense was stuffed on fourth down on its next two drives and Central ran the lead to 27-0 on touchdown runs of 17 and 63 yards by Valdez, who rushed for 205 yards in the first half and 238 in the game.

On their next drive, the Bulldogs moved to Central’s 18-yard line — its deepest penetration of the game — but Salazar threw into double-coverage and was picked off at the goal line by Lerille.

“I think it was all in our heads. Everyone was worried about giving the ball up and you can’t worry about that or else it will happen,” Salazar said. “We just weren’t mentally tough today.”

Although the field was wet because of overnight rain and morning mist, Arledge didn’t identify conditions as the source of the Bulldogs’ turnover troubles. Part was Palisade fielding an extremely young team and part was the talent of Central.

“Some of it is youth, but they’re a pretty good team,” Arledge said. “They have talent, they have skill and they have some kids who can run up and down the field. They’re the No. 1 seed.”

Sophomore running back Ronald Kuntz led the Bulldogs with 61 yards rushing, sophomore Isaac Cordova ran for 47 and junior Sean Dunn pitched in 44 yards on the ground. But Palisade only moved into Central territory twice and never threatened the end zone.

“When you can goose-egg a team like Palisade, then you’ve done something pretty well,” Central coach Dave Craddock said.


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