On 18th birthday, Graham leads Fruita past Palisade
Braeden Graham turned 18 on Friday.
The Fruita Monument High School senior running back did plenty of celebrating against Palisade at Stocker Stadium, rushing for 181 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Wildcats to a 24-8 victory over the Bulldogs.
Graham’s birthday celebration will continue today when he drives to Wyoming to watch the game between Oregon and the Cowboys.
“This is a highlight, for sure,” he said. “And this will definitely make the trip a lot easier.”
Graham and fullback Treyton Queen were the main tools the Wildcats (4-0) used to run past Palisade, combining for 284 yards rushing.
“We like to keep our opponents on their toes,” said Graham, who through four games has combined with Queen to rush for 1,176 yards. “If they shut down one of us, we can take a break and the other one can take over. It’s worked out so far.”
The diversified backfield has led to a fast start for the Wildcats, who last season lost three of their first four games.
“We’re happy to be 4-0, but we can’t be satisfied at this point,” coach Todd Casebier said.
Palisade’s Cameron Tucker completed 9 of 14 passes for 109 yards and an interception, with most of his passing attempts coming in the second half with the Bulldogs playing from behind. Tucker added 50 yards rushing to accompany a team-best 54 rushing yards from running back Austin Bernal, who also had three catches for 42 yards.
For all of the efforts Palisade made to keep up with Fruita, the Wildcats simply had more resources.
“We’re rebuilding, and I’m not saying that as an excuse,” Palisade coach Joe Ramunno said. “They’re the only undefeated (Class) 4A team left and we’re still able to fight with them. They did beat us soundly, and we get that, but there’s a lot of things we can take from this and learn from.”
Fruita struck first after its defense halted Palisade’s opening drive by recovering a fumble on the Wildcats’ 19. Queen’s 13-yard touchdown run off the left tackle capped Fruita’s 11-play, 81-yard drive.
After both defenses stiffened, the Wildcats faced a third-and-10 at their own 17 late in the second quarter. Graham broke free for a 34-yard run to put Fruita in Palisade territory.
Eight plays later, Graham capped the drive with a 9-yard TD run, giving the Wildcats a two-touchdown cushion with 1:02 left before halftime. On the third play of the second half, Graham followed the blocks of Queen and tight end Levi Womack and raced around the right side 51 yards for a 21-0 Fruita lead.
“We actually had it set up for the first play after halftime, and he went inside,” Casebier said. “The next time he saw it and went outside. When people are going to give us Braeden on the outside, that’s a pretty good deal. I think he’s one of he best backs in 4A, and he proved that again tonight.”
Palisade kept fighting, capping a 14-play, 80-yard drive with a 6-yard run from Jason Bruce to pull within 21-8 after a halfback conversion pass from Jarrett Brown to Sebastian Campbell. The Bulldogs stopped Fruita’s next drive and drove to the Wildcats’ 42 with 11 minutes left the fourth quarter, but Canon Kreidler intercepted a deep pass from Tucker to end the threat. Eight minutes later, Marcus Mosnes increased Fruita’s lead to 24-8 with a 27-yard field goal.
“Palisade’s a good program and we got their best shot tonight,” Casebier said. “Our defense did a good job tonight, but there’s a lot of places where we can get better.”