A game of inches

Palisade squeezes out season-opening win over Central

Palisade quarterback Cameron Tucker, left, looks for an opening in the Central defense Friday night as he carries the ball during the first half of the Bulldogs’ 20-14 overtime victory at Stocker Stadium. Tucker, who left the game late with an injury, ran for 69 yards and completed two passes for 30 yards.

Central wide receiver Josh Schuett, 5, has his forward progress stopped by Palisade’s defense Friday night in the first half of the Warriors’ 20-14 overtime loss. Central’s offense was out of sync most of the night, before clicking in the fourth quarter.

Central’s Josh Schuett, bottom, and Josh Barela, top, dive for a loose ball during the first half of Friday’s night’s 20-14 overtime loss to Palisade at Stocker Stadium.

Palisade’s Austin Bernal, 33, picks up yardage during the first half of Friday’s 20-14 overtime victory over the Central Warriors at Stocker Stadium. Bernal ran for 77 yards in the Bulldogs’ win.

The Palisade High School football team’s Zero Week game came down to inches on several occasions.

With 8:44 to go Friday night at Stocker Stadium, the Bulldogs led 8-6, and were defending Central’s penalty-lengthened two-point conversion attempt after a touchdown pass. Warriors quarterback Max Marsh found his receiver for an 18-yard conversion, but the receiver’s foot was inches out of bounds.

Three minutes later, Palisade fullback Terrance Williams barely converted a fourth-down try on what was eventually a touchdown-scoring drive.

Finally, after Central came roaring back to force overtime, Palisade backup quarterback Christian Riddle stretched the nose of the football over the goal line, lifting the Bulldogs to a 20-14 victory to win The WarDog Trophy. Riddle replaced starter Cameron Tucker, who left with an injury late in the game.

It was an ugly game on both sides for the first three quarters, with Palisade piling up the penalties and Central’s offense out of sync. But the game opened up in the fourth quarter.

Bulldogs coach Joe Ramunno said it was an incredible showing by both teams.

“Coach (Landon) McKee really had our guys in great position on defense,” Ramunno said. “We gave a couple things away and this early in the season, there are a lot of mistakes happening all over the field. We just kinda had to eat some of those things and you have to give credit to Central. We’re really fortunate to come away with a victory and it was a great day for our defense. They did some great things early.”

Palisade senior Terrance Williams made his presence felt as early as the first drive when Central, backed up near its own end zone, attempted to punt. Williams shot around the outside, swatted away the football and sent it rolling out of the back of the end zone for a safety.

Those were the only two points of the first half as Palisade quietly posted 208 yards of total offense, but more than 70 yards of penalties derailed any scoring chances. Williams was the biggest contributor, rushing for a bruising 100 yards on 10 carries as a fullback. At 5-10 and 202 pounds, Williams blasted through tackles and regularly stumbled forward for extra yardage.

He finished with 179 yards on 26 carries, scoring a 2-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. He added numerous tackles and two sacks on defense.

Ramunno credited the Williams for an outstanding performance.

“He was a dominant figure, especially early,” the coach said. “Getting that blocked punt for the safety, I mean, then he’s coming off the edge. He goes both ways, too. He’s a true workhorse for us there and he really did a great job.”

Central’s offense was out of rhythm until the final drive of the first half. Marsh started the game 0 for 7 and the Warriors’ offense had five drops before the break.

Still, by the end of the half, Marsh had improved to 4 for 14 and had three big completions down the stretch. His final pass of the first half — a screen pass to running back Anthony Zubiate — came up six yards short of the end zone when Zubiate was tripped up.

The offensive attack was once again shaky in the third quarter before igniting in the fourth, led by the clutch play of Marsh.

The sophomore quarterback found Zubiate over the middle and the running back exploded for a 54-yard touchdown. A blind-side hit penalty pushed back the two-point conversion, where Marsh delivered a bullet to the corner of the end zone, only for it to be ruled out of bounds.

With Central trailing 8-6, Palisade went down the field and scored, but failed on a long, penalty-lengthened two-point conversion attempt.

Palisade tried an onside kick, but it once again came down to inches. Palisade players fell on the ball near the sideline and even popped up and ran in celebration, but officials ruled the ball had gone out of bounds.

Central responded with a 10-play, 65-yard drive that started disastrously. Zubiate was stuffed for a loss, Marsh was sacked and then threw an incomplete pass to set up 4th and 19.

Marsh came through with a 26-yard completion to Trey Ehlers, later connected with Kole Taylor and Josh Schuett on medium gains, then found Ehlers on a 10-yard touchdown that forced overtime.


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