Class 3A’s elite teams ready to renew rivalry

Palisade coach says teams would split a 10-game series

Delta WR Phillip Decker tries to pull down a end of the first half TD pass but Palisade’s Steaphen Isaac and Jake Appling knock the pass down to end the first half 14-0.



Palisade and Glenwood Springs have waited around long enough.

Both teams cruised to undefeated records (Palisade 8-0, 6-0 Western Slope Conference; Glenwood Springs 7-0, 5-0 WSC), keeping this game in the back of their minds.

Finally it’s time to face off.

The top two teams in the Rocky Mountain News’ Class 3A rankings will be playing one of the most anticipated games in recent Western Slope football history.

Separated by 75 miles, the Bulldogs and Demons have evolved into the clear contenders for the Western Slope Conference championship this season and high seeds in the 3A playoffs.

The game is the ultimate in contrasts.

It’s Palisade’s tradition against Glenwood’s recent success, the Bulldogs’ power running game taking on the Demons’ wide-open offense, two nearly flawless teams trying to expose a weakness in the other.

This is like the old west with two outlaws strolling into town square for a showdown — a genuine Western Slope Showdown.

“This is why you play football,” Palisade coach John Arledge said. “We want to see how good we are, they were league champs last year and we want to see if we can beat them.”

Gunslingers: Glenwood Springs has been propelled by quarterback Dakota Stonehouse the past two seasons.

A senior quarterback with all kinds of athletic ability, Stonehouse had a monster junior season, throwing for more than 2,300 yards and 31 touchdowns. This season he has not slipped up, with 1,200 yards passing and 11 touchdowns. He has also rushed for nine touchdowns.

“Dakota is having a great year,” Glenwood Springs coach Rocky Whitworth said. “He has been working hard and hustling and is a good kid.”

Traditionally quarterbacks aren’t unsung heroes, but Palisade’s Jake Appling isn’t one of the most talked-about players in the WSC.

The product of a run-first offense, Appling hasn’t put up big passing stats this year but watching him play it’s easy to see why Appling is critical to the Bulldogs’ success. Appling is efficient when he passes, with only one interception in 52 attempts and with five passing touchdowns. Appling also averages more than four yards per carry and has scored three rushing touchdowns.

Wagons: Palisade is blessed with skill position players. An early season injury to running back Zach Adair opened up the door for senior Travis Fehlman, who took the ball and ran with it. Fehlman is leading the Bulldogs with 705 yards rushing on 116 carries.

But what has made the Bulldogs so strong running the ball is the fact that it’s not a one-man show.

Senior fullback Aaron Wagler has continued to be a bull out of the backfield despite breaking his hand, scoring eight touchdowns. Junior Jesse Brannon has been another option, averaging more than nine yards per carry and scoring six touchdowns. After returning from the knee injury, Adair has been a versatile player for the Bulldogs, especially as an option in the short passing game.

“We always knew everyone can play, it is just mixing and matching for certain situations,” Arledge said.

Because of the potent arm of Stonehouse, Glenwood’s running game tends to get forgotten about. That’s a big mistake. Running back Michael Hudson’s numbers speak for themselves, with 886 yards rushing on 71 carries and a gaudy 15 touchdowns.

“They have a really good running game, which I think gets overlooked,” Arledge said.

Steeds: The Demons have an exciting offense, averaging 43 points per game. Glenwood’s spread offense forces the offensive line to do a lot of man-on-man blocking, regularly running four-receiver routes. Leading the way is senior lineman Moses Glavan, who plays on both sides of the football.

“Moses has done a great job at O-line,” Whitworth said.

Palisade needs tough linemen in its running game. Any time an offensive line is required to run block 50 times a game, each lineman has to be physically and mentally tough. Jacob Edmiston and Nick and Nate Stephanus lead the way for the Bulldogs.

“A big key is the offensive line. We have young and old kids that have emerged and gotten better every week,” Arledge said.

Six-Shooters: Defense wins championships, and both teams play plenty of defense. Palisade allows fewer than 10 points per game and hasn’t allowed more than 16 in one game (Woodland Park in the season opener). Edmiston is a tough, roving linebacker who patrols the middle, Wagler is one of the better defensive ends in the state and Caleb Sisneros is a quick interior defensive lineman.

“Coach Whitworth does a great job scheming, so we will have our work cut out for us defensively,” Arledge said.

Glenwood is led by linebackers Jordan Ciani and Keenan Hartert.

“Both Jordan and Keenan have been playing really well,” Whitworth said. “But I don’t know if we can stop (Palisade) completely.”

Glenwood has played well defensively all year, allowing 13 points per game, but had a statement win right out of the gates when they held Montrose to a season-low 26 points and intercepted three passes in the win over the 4A school.

Bennett Nicola is a tall defensive back for the Demons who does a good job controlling the defensive backfield.

Marshalls: So who are the men calling the shots? Palisade’s Arledge is always thinking long-term. He has said he would rather barely get into the playoffs and make a run than go undefeated in the regular season and lose in the first round.

“This isn’t it,” Arledge said. “This will be a great game and they are a great team, but for both teams, the playoffs are where it is at.”

Regardless, Arledge still wants to send a message. After defeating the Demons in his first year as head coach 41-3, Glenwood has won the past two contests 25-18 (2006) and 34-21 (2007).

Whitworth, on the other hand, has enjoyed the influx of talent that found its way into Glenwood. After a berth in the playoffs in his first season and two sub-.500 seasons after that, Whitworth has guided Glenwood to a 17-1 record the past two seasons.

“This year’s success has probably been a combination of some improvement with our defense and the ability to move the ball in spurts,” Whitworth said. 

History: Last season, this game was played two weeks earlier in Glenwood Springs. After a scoreless first quarter, the Demons took a 14-6 halftime lead behind two Stonehouse rushing touchdowns. Glenwood added on in third quarter, scoring two more TDs on the ground. Palisade made a surge to cut the lead to 28-21 before Glenwood scored again in the fourth quarter to put the game away, 34-21.

Forecast: Glenwood has to keep Palisade from running big chunks of time off the clock, which keeps Stonehouse off the field.

“Our hope is to hang in there late and hope something good happens,” Whitworth said. “We haven’t faced anyone like Palisade, that is for sure.”

For the Bulldogs, they have to keep Stonehouse from making big plays.

Either way, both teams will be put into an unusual situation — trailing in a game.

“It could be a shootout and it could be a defensive battle. One team could get blown out, which I don’t see happening,” Arledge said. “I mean, if we played 10 times it would probably be 5-5. It just depends on a lot of
factors.”


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