For Palisade, physical, fundamental football the key

Palisade quarterback Levi Hoaglund doesn’t throw the ball often, but he keeps defenses honest in the Bulldogs’ flexbone offense.

Dalton Hannigan has been a big part of the Palisade High School offense this season, rushing for 1,144 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also has returned one kickoff for a touchdown. The Bulldogs face Lutheran at 1 p.m. Saturday at Stocker Stadium in the Class 3A playoffs.

Delta quarterback Cade Gafford, 7, has thrown for 1,716 yards and 21 touchdowns this season.


Class 3A Playoffs

No. 15 Lutheran (8-2) at No. 2 Palisade (9-1)

First round, 1 p.m. Saturday,
Stocker Stadium


Lutheran — Daryl Moe, fourth season, 31-10.

Palisade — Joe Ramunno, 10th season, first year back since 1997, coached four consecutive Class 3A state championships, 1994-97.

About Lutheran

■ The Lions finished third in the 3A Metro West Conference with both of their conference losses coming against playoff teams: 25-19 to No. 10 Conifer and 23-20 to No. 8 Evergreen in back-to-back weeks. They have won four games in a row since then.

■ Lutheran was nearly equal in yards gained on the ground and through the air, passing for 2,064 and rushing for 1,981.

■ Junior QB James Willis (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) has completed 69 percent of his 143 passes for 2,008 yards and 23 touchdowns. He has thrown six interceptions.

■ Junior RB Jamil Bond (6-0, 185) leads the Lions with 1,113 yards, averaging 10.2 per carry, and he has scored 22 TDs. No one else has more than 309 yards rushing.

■ Two juniors lead the receiving corps: Joshua Claussen (39 catches, 775 yards, 9 TDs) and Alex Nemmers (31 catches, 601 yards, 6 TDs).

■ Senior LB Noah Halseth leads the defense with 96 tackles, including 55 solo stops.

■ The Lions have 32 sacks and have intercepted 15 passes.

■ Junior Brendan Edgerley has had to punt just 10 times and averaged 43.5 yards.

About Palisade

■ The Bulldogs won the 3A Western Slope Conference, edging Rifle on the head-to-head tiebreaker after each finished 7-1 in the conference.

■ Palisade’s offense is dominated by the run, and the Bulldogs have an affinity for breaking long runs. QB Levi Hoaglund and RB Dalton Hannigan, a pair of seniors, do most of the damage. Hoaglund leads the team in rushes with 118 and yards with 1,166, and he’s scored 16 times. Hannigan is second in carries with 94 and yards with 1,144, and he’s scored 17 times.

■ Five other runners have at least 100 yards, led by junior Easton Woods with 187.

■ The Bulldogs rarely pass, but when they do they average 17 yards per completion. Hoaglund has completed 25 of 54 attempts for 427 yards and seven TDs. His top target is senior Tass Crow with 14 catches for 238 yards and five TDs.

■ Palisade’s tackles are spread evenly with six players with at least 38 tackles, and no with one more than the 58 credited to senior LB Zach Marengo.

■ The Bulldogs have recorded 10 sacks, with senior DE Jack Millard getting 3.5 of them.

■ Palisade has intercepted 19 passes, eight of which have been returned for touchdowns. Senior safety Robert DeSantis leads the team with five pickoffs, and DB Hannigan, DB Crow and senior DB Austin Terry each had three.

■ Junior kicker Marques Combs, the leading scorer on Palisade’s boys soccer team this fall, has converted 45 of 50 extra-point kicks and made three field goals with a long of 35 yards.

■ Hoaglund punted 11 times and averaged 42.9 yards per punt.

No. 11 Rifle (8-2) at No. 6 Coronado (9-1)

First round, 1 p.m. Saturday at Garry Berry Stadium, Colorado Springs


Coronado — Bobby Lizarraga, third season, 14-16.

Rifle — Damon Wells, seventh season.

About Coronado

■ The Cougars finished second in the 3A South Central Conference, suffering their lone loss in the regular-season finale, 24-20 to Discovery Canyon, which is 9-1 and earned the No. 1 seed in the 3A playoffs.

■ Coronado has the largest enrollment (1,331) among the 3A playoff teams, having petitioned to move down from Class 4A two years ago after posting three winless seasons and going 2-38 in the four years prior to 2012.

■ Coronado’s defense has recorded three shutouts and limited opponents to nine or fewer points seven times this season.

■ The Cougars lean on the ground game, rushing 424 times for 2640 yards. Junior RB Isaah Duvall got the most carries with 125, yards with 996 and touchdowns with 10. Not far behind is junior RB Austin Micci with 98 carries for 870 yards and nine TDs.

■ Senior QB Joah Smith (6-2, 200) has completed 51 percent of his 127 passes for 1,117 yards and eight TDs.

■ Senior Sam Smith, a 6-2, 200-pound TE, leads the Cougars’ receivers with 26 catches for 417 yards.

■ Junior Zeb Smith leads the team in tackles with 108, followed by Sam Smith with 95. Both play linebacker.

■ The Cougars have 19 sacks and 13 interceptions.

■ Senior kicker Mason Telander has converted 32 of 35 point-after kicks and made three of five field goal tries, including a long of 43 yards.

About Rifle

■ The Bears tied Palisade atop the 3A WSC but lost the head-to-head tiebreaker to Palisade for the title.

■ The Bears’ offense is predicated on the run and piled up 3,658 yards on the ground, averaging 9.97 yards per carry. Long scoring runs were common among their 57 rushing TDs.

■ Senior Kellin Leigh led a trio of running backs who split carries. Leigh rushed for 1,150 yards and a team-high 18 TDs, averaging 11.7 yards per carry. Meanwhile, senior Javier Nunez (886 yards, 9.2 average, 10 TDs) and junior Brock Clark (859 yards, 11.8 average, 11 TDs) nearly mirrored each other, and senior Bailey Hoffmeister added 280 yards and six TDs.

■ The Bears limited their passes to 84. Junior QB Layton Stutsman’s 37 completions went for 562 yards and four TDs.

■ Junior Austin Knight was Stutsman’s top target, catching 23 passes for 425 yards and two scores.

■ Junior LB Austin Shepard led the team with 83 tackles.

■ The Bears collected 24 sacks, with 9.5 coming from DE Zach Bare. Rifle intercepted six passes.

No. 13 Delta (7-3) at No. 4 Holy Family (8-1)

First round, 1 p.m. Saturday
 Holy Family High School, Broomfield


Holy Family — Michael Gabriel, sixth season, 46-18.

Delta — Ben Johnson, fifth season, 33-21.

About Holy Family

■ The Tigers won the 3A Northern Conference with a 5-0 mark. Their lone loss was 45-14 to defending 3A state champion Silver Creek in the third game of the season.

■ Senior QB David Sommers (6-3, 195) leads Holy Family with his arm and legs. He has thrown for 1,340 yards and 10 TDs, and he leads the team in rushing with 1,014 yards and 14 TDs.

■ Junior RB Ryan Younggreen (6-1, 175) is next with 590 yards rushing and 11 TDs.

■ Senior TE Matthew Erb (6-1, 185) led the team with 35 catches for 616 yards and three TDs. WR Weston Dinsmore (6-3 195) added 23 catches for 270 yards and five TDs.

■ Sophomore DB Chris Helbig (6-2, 160) leads the team with 52 tackles, 46 of them solo.

■ The Tigers have 14 sacks and 15 interceptions. Helbig has seven interceptions, and Youngreen has four.

About Delta

■ The Panthers’ offense is extremely balanced as 318 rushes netted 2,086 yards, and 205 passes brought 1,764 yards.

■ Sophomore RB Jonny Ponce emerged as the leading rusher, gaining 1,288 yards and scoring 13 TDs. Junior Derek Horn is next with 330 yards and five TDs.

■ Junior QB Cade Gafford (6-6, 185) has completed 61 percent of his throws for 1,716 yards and 21 TDs. He’s been intercepted twice.

■ Senior WR Ryan Whiteside (6-3, 165) is Gafford’s favorite target, hauling in 57 receptions for 875 yards and 12 TDs. Senior RB Tyler Sandoval has 29 catches, 223 yards and 3 TDs.

Senior WR Devin Williams is a big-play threat, taking his 12 catches for 307 yards and four TDs.

Palisade High School coach Joe Ramunno’s reputation as a successful playoff coach is undisputed.

The four-time state championship coach knows every team in the Class 3A playoffs is dangerous, and he has some concerns for his second-seeded Bulldogs as they take on 15th-seeded Lutheran on Saturday at Stocker Stadium.

Lutheran (8-2) will challenge Palisade (9-1) with a balanced offensive attack and a highly effective quarterback who has thrown for more than 2,000 yards this season. A good passing game is something that Western Slope Conference teams don’t see a lot.

“(It’s) always a concern for us,” Ramunno said about the passing game. “Their receivers are all very tall and athletic. Great QB that is tough along with a great running game.”

Lutheran head coach Daryl Moe faced Ramunno in the college ranks when Moe was offensive coordinator for Adams State and Ramunno was the head coach at Colorado Mesa.

With only 331 students, the Parker school is the smallest school in the Class 3A playoffs. Moe said the private school made the decision to play up a classification despite its enrollment.

He knows what to expect with the Bulldogs, and it won’t be easy to stop them.

“They are a real physical team, a real tough team,” he said. “They do a great job with that offense, and it will be a huge challenge for us.”

Moe added his team wants to be balanced on offense and let the game dictate how it plays, but if the Lions hope to pull off the upset, they will have to be effective getting the ball to their wide receivers.

The Lions have been balanced throughout the season, averaging 206 yards passing and 198 yards rushing per game.

Palisade’s flexbone offensive attack, which averaged 332 yards rushing per game, has given teams trouble all season and relies on two main runners to chew up yardage.

Big, physical senior Levi Hoaglund, playing his first season at quarterback, has rushed for 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns, and quick-footed senior Dalton Hannigan has gone for 1,144 and 17 TDs. He also scored a TD via kickoff return.

The Bulldogs throw sparingly and only averaged 42 yards per game passing, but they can be effective, as their last-minute 28-27 comeback victory over Rifle demonstrated. Tass Crow leads the team with five touchdown receptions.

Defensively, seniors Jake Millard and Zach Marengo lead a physical group in the Bulldogs’ front seven.

Palisade’s lone loss came on the road at Delta, which used a good passing game and a 200-yard rushing game to help the Panthers to a 31-21 win.

In the secondary, the Bulldogs have quick and athletic playmakers and ball hawks. The group has 19 interceptions, and once they have the ball in their mitts, they are looking for to take it to the house. Eight of those 19 pickoffs have been returned for touchdowns.

Lutheran comes out of the Metro West Conference, where three teams qualified for the 16-team playoffs. The WSC is the only conference with four teams in the postseason, with Rifle, Delta and Glenwood Springs joining Palisade.

Lutheran QB James Willis has thrown for 2,008 yards, 23 TDs and just six interceptions during the regular season. His two main receivers are Joshua Claussen, a 6-4 junior who has 39 catches for 775 yards, and Alex Nemmers, a 6-2 junior with 601 yards on 31 catches.

Jamil Bond has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and has 24 TDs on the season.

For Ramunno, a winning formula in the playoffs is no different than winning in the regular season.

“We have to play disciplined, physical and fundamentally sound football to have any chance at a victory,” he said.

Rifle at Coronado

The 11th-seeded Rifle Bears (8-2) are facing a huge task when they face sixth-seeded Coronado (9-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Colorado Springs.

Size will be the main factor, according to Rifle coach Damon Wells.

“They are significantly bigger than us both in population and weight. We will have to fight like crazy to not be shoved around the field,” he said.

Coronado, which has an enrollment of 1,331 students, is a Class 4A-sized school but petitioned to move down after several bad seasons.

Rifle averages more than 42 points per game, but Coronado has given up only 77 points all season, the fewest points allowed in 3A. Rifle’s 105 points allowed is second best in 3A.

Over the past two years, few teams have shoved the Bears around. Rifle’s powerful and diverse rushing attack is the best in 3A, averaging more than 365 yards a game. Senior Kellin Leigh, who has 1,150 yards, leads the team, with Javier Nunez and Brock Clark each with more than 850 yards.

Rifle averages 56 yards passing per game.

Defensively, the Bears have been solid all year and are led by hard-hitting junior linebacker Austin Shepard, senior safety Bailey Hoffmeister and senior linebacker Zach Bare, who has 9 1/2 sacks on the season.

In the Bears’ two losses, they turned the ball over seven times and had a number of key penalties.

“We have to hang on to the ball. Through 10 games last season we lost seven fumbles. Through 10 games this season we have lost 16,” he said.

Rifle lost the state title game to Silver Creek last year. Wells said playoff experience should help the Bears.

“Experience is invaluable. We are very fortunate to have a group of boys who have already played in six playoff games,” he said.

He said as a group, the seniors are 32-4 in their careers.

Coronado is big, physical team that has rushed for more than 2,600 yards as a team and has a pair of junior runners with more than 850 yards rushing with Isaah Duvall leading the team with 996 yards in nine games. Senior Joah Smith leads the passing game with 1,117 yards and eight TDs.

Delta at Holy Family

When 13th-seeded Delta (7-3) battles fourth-seeded Holy Family (8-1) on Saturday, it will be a matchup of diverse offenses.

The Panthers average 176 yards through the air and 208 yards on the ground. The Northern Conference champion Tigers, out of Broomfield, averaged 151 yards via the air and 234 yards on the ground.

Both teams are averaging right at 35 points per game.

Preparing for a spread offense with a good passing game will be a challenge, Delta head coach Ben Johnson said.

“Over here we have so many good running games, and (the Tigers) spread the field, so we are going to have to be very disciplined in our assignments,” he said.

The Panthers, who came in as the 13th seed last year and advanced to the quarterfinals, are making their third playoff appearance since 2009.

Junior quarterback Cade Gafford has thrown for 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions for Delta. Sophomore Jonny Ponce has 1,288 yards rushing, and senior Ryan Whiteside has 57 receptions and 875 yards for the Panthers.

The Tigers run an effective spread offense that relies heavily on the running and throwing of quarterback David Sommers. The senior threw for 1,340 yards and 10 TDs and ran for 1,014 yards and 14 TDs in eight games. He had a 213-yard rushing game in the regular-season finale.

Johnson said Delta will try to be as balanced as possible. He also said playing in a tough conference helps once the playoffs begin.

“We prepared ourselves in very in a very tough league, and we’re excited to take our brand of football over (to the Front Range),” he said.


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