Late rally lifts ‘Dogs past Delta
DELTA — The Palisade High School football team faced an early 19-0 against Delta on Friday night.
The Bulldogs’ offensive and defensive lines were struggling, Panthers running back Brendon Starr had run all over the field, and Palisade’s offense was limping through two unsuccessful drives.
Down three scores, the Bulldogs’ lines got back on track. Fast forward nearly three quarters later and Palisade scored the go-ahead touchdown with 23.5 seconds left after a 17-play, 80-yard drive to defeat Delta 36-33.
Running back Austin Bernal capped the drive with a 2-yard rushing touchdown on a fourth-down pitch play. The drive took more than seven minutes off the clock.
The Bulldogs’ line play, particularly on the offensive end, was the catalyst for several big drives in the final three quarters. Palisade coach Joe Ramunno said a mixture of coaching adjustments and an old-fashioned butt chewing got the line to click.
“It really was both of those things,” Ramunno said. “Delta did a great job with their scheme. They did some things with us that we weren’t ready to handle, particularly up front. Remember, I’ve got some sophomores up front, so we had to get some adjustments to get things moving. Then, just the work ethic these guys have, they keep coming when you motivate them, and I’m proud of them for making those adjustments, because Delta dang sure had us on the ropes early.”
Starr capped a productive first drive for the Panthers (1-3) with a 3-yard touchdown. The Bulldogs (3-2) had their drive stall, then Delta quarterback Drake Horn found Kole Granger on a 34-yard touchdown pass. The Panthers missed the point-after kick on the first score, then couldn’t convert a 2-point conversion after the second score, resulting in a 12-0 lead.
Starr opened the second quarter with a 10-yard rushing touchdown, but that would be the last time Delta would score in the first half. Led by a more cohesive offensive line and the clutch play of sophomore quarterback Cameron Tucker, the Bulldogs scored 20 consecutive points to close out the first half.
Tucker hit Austin Bernal up the seam for a 42-yard touchdown, cutting the Panthers’ lead to 19-8, then Terrance Williams rumbled for a 44-yard touchdown on the Bulldogs’ next drive. Williams broke several tackles during the run, stiff-arming two would-be tacklers near the line, then carrying three defenders the final 10 yards into the end zone with 2:57 until halftime.
After getting another defensive stop, Palisade drove a little more than 50 yards in 55 seconds. On the final play of the half, Tucker was flushed right from the pocket, cut back to the left, made a short step back to the right before chucking up a 13-yard pass that Jarett Brown pulled in for a touchdown.
Tucker said the offensive line held strong as he scrambled around, looking for any gap in Delta’s defense.
“(The) offensive line bought me great time,” Tucker said. “That really is a great play by them, and Jarett Brown made a phenomenal catch in the end zone.”
Palisade got the ball to start the second half, but turned it over on downs. Starr responded with his third touchdown of the night, slipping between defenders for a 45-yard touchdown for the only score of the third quarter. It gave Delta a 27-20 lead.
Williams had two more exceptional runs to put Palisade back on top early in the fourth quarter, first rumbling 25 yards for a touchdown, again breaking several tackles to finish the run. He then surged forward through three defenders to convert the 2-point conversion and give the Bulldogs the lead.
Horn capped Delta’s next drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to put the Panthers ahead 33-28 with 7:33 left, then the Bulldogs rallied for the win.
Williams had 20 carries for 151 yards and Tucker carried the football 21 times for 79 yards. The quarterback also completed 11 of 13 passes for 171 yards, with two TDs and no interceptions.
Ramunno praised his sophomore signal-caller.
“It’s huge just to see how he delivered the ball,” Ramunno said. “He ran the option great tonight and threw well. He’s not doing things perfect, but he’s a competitor and he just gives us so much. Really the heart beat of us getting going.”