Palisade looking to break quarterfinal curse
Quarterfinals is a dirty word for the Palisade Bulldogs.
For the past three years, the Bulldogs have lost in the quarterfinals in the Class 3A playoffs.
Come Saturday, Palisade (10-1), the third seed, will look to bust through that wall and get into the semifinals with a win over 11th-seeded Mead (8-3).
Palisade last made the semifinals in 2010.
Coach Joe Ramunno knows it’s never an easy road when the playoffs start.
“Number one, we have to execute. I know we have a good group, but they have a good group too. Everybody is good when you get to the final eight,” he said.
This season, the Bulldogs have once again relied heavily on their power running game, which is averaging 341 yards a game. But this season, with experienced, multitalented senior quarterback P.D. Riddle, the Bulldogs have added a few wrinkles to their offense.
“It definitely makes us a lot more diverse and that allows us to do different things but we have to take care of the dang football and be better blockers, and do the skill things well,” Ramunno said.
The veteran coach still knows that success comes down to being physical.
“We still have the ability to line up and run power, and that’s always important,” he said. “It ultimately resides in being tough up front and getting movement there.”
Defensively, the key to success is the same — be physical and aggressive.
Senior defensive back Daniel McLean, a three-year starter, says this year’s team is all about being physical.
“It’s huge for us to be physical, especially up front,” he said. “Our guys up front are the most physical guys in (3A) in my opinion. It really breaks teams down when you’re that physical.”
Kyle Hall, a 300-plus pound lineman, is a big key in stopping the opponent’s run game, McLean said.
“We’ve executed our schemes almost flawlessly this year except for one game,” he said, referring to an early season 52-48 loss to Holy Family. “We’re always hustling. That’s what makes up for our mistakes, we’re all still getting to the ball.”
Offensively, the key has revolved around the line being physical and Riddle being the triggerman.
He gives the Bulldogs the advantage of putting in those new wrinkles in both the run and passing games.
“We’ve changed up the schemes a little bit and I think we’ve done well executing those plays,” Riddle said. “The last four years, I’ve been around the offense, so any tweaks that they put in I’m pretty comfortable with.”
Palisade has averaged an astounding 8.5 yards per carry this season in the run game and even though the Bulldogs only average 96 yards passing per game, the passing game remains crucial to their success.
Riddle has completed nearly 75 percent of his passes for an average of 20 yards a completion and 12 TDs.
He’s also a powerful and elusive runner, who has rushed for 972 yards this season to lead the team.
The Bulldogs have four runners with more than 600 yards. When senior Isaac Maestas went down a month ago with a broken right arm, it was a seamless transition for Austin Bernal to step in, and the junior is now second on the team with 749 yards and 18 total TDs.
Riddle said the passing game will always be vital to keeping teams honest.
“Given that we don’t really do it that often, it’s important when we do,” he said. “Those plays are going to help us big time because teams aren’t expecting us to do it a lot. It also opens it up for us a lot.”
The run game has taken care of teams without much trouble this season and the Bulldogs have put up big numbers.
In the last eight games, including last week’s 44-3 win over Evergreen in the first round of the playoffs, the Bulldogs have averaged 46 points a game, outscoring opponents 375-68.
Mead is similar to Palisade and loves to run the ball. The Mavericks have averaged 322 yards a game on the ground.
Saturday’s game will feature two versatile QBs. Like Riddle, Mead senior Riley Glynn is the key to the Mavericks’ offense both throwing and running. Mead’s running game centers around junior Nathan Mackley, who has more than 1,500 yards on the season
Last week, Mead upset No. 6 Palmer Ridge 28-24 to move into the quarterfinals.
Mead is one of the most battle tested teams in the 3A tournament. The Palisade game will be the Mavericks’ seventh game against a playoff team. Right now, Mead is 3-3 against those teams.
However, this will also be Palisade’s seventh game against playoff teams, including wins over Fruita Monument and Central, who qualified for the 4A playoffs.
Palisade still is not sure of the availability of Maestas, who had 656 yards rushing before the injury. If he’s not ready to play in the field, he will still handle the kicking duties.