Prepping for playoffs: Palisade overcomes tough test from Delta in regular season finale
Delta needed it, but Palisade wanted it to secure a home playoff game.
The Bulldogs (9-1, 6-1) virtually wrapped up a home playoff game with a 28-14 victory over Delta in each team’s final Western Slope Conference game Friday night at Stocker Stadium.
“We knew they needed to win this game to get to the playoffs,” Palisade senior Connor Charlesworth said. “We couldn’t take them lightly. We knew they were going to fight from the beginning. They are a good team. They fought us to the end.”
The Class 3A state pairings will be released Sunday.
“Hopefully we get a good seed,” Palisade coach John Arledge said. “When the seeding process happens, it’s one of those things you can’t worry about. Whoever you’ve got to play, you’ve got to play. They’re all good at that level. Everyone has earned the right to get there.”
Delta (5-5, 3-4) will likely not receive a state playoff berth. The Panthers were ranked 19th in the wild-card points. The seven 3A conference champions receive automatic berths along with the remaining top 9 teams in the wild-card points.
The Panthers’ chances took a hit from the start when Jamr Rhodes returned the opening squib kick 75 yards for a touchdown and a 6-0 lead.
“I think we made the most of our breaks at that point,” Arledge said. “Our special teams and defense played good. We had an opportunity and took it. Those kind of opportunities don’t come very often.”
Delta dug itself a deeper hole when Charlesworth intercepted Delta quarterback Mitchel Whiteside and returned it 80 yards down the sideline for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead. Luke McLean scored on a run for the 2-point conversion.
“I just read his eyes,” Charlesworth said. “I did what we’re taught. We work on it every day. We just read his eyes and make a play. I followed my blockers and let them do the job. They blocked for me great.”
It was Charlesworth’s first interception for a touchdown.
“It pumped us up,” he said. “We knew from the beginning we had to make big plays to stay on top and we did it. That’s what set the tone for the game.”
Palisade’s offense finally took the field midway through the first quarter and moved the ball into Delta territory, but fumbled. Delta junior Alex Standish recovered, setting up Devon Ruble’s 45-yard touchdown reception from Whiteside with 36 seconds left in the first quarter. Palisade held on to the 14-7 lead at halftime despite another fumble.
“Delta is well-coached, physical, big and aggressive,” Arledge said. “They did a great job defensively against our offense early in the game. I think our kids, over time, wore them down. It was a smash-mouth contest.”
In the third quarter, Palisade’s offense began to break open.
The Bulldogs put together a 59-yard drive with Andrew Buck scoring on an 18-yard reception from McLean. Lassi Leppanen kicked the point after for a 21-7 lead.
Palisade controlled the tempo, getting eight first downs in the quarter and not allowing any for the Panthers.
“Our kids aren’t selfish,” Arledge said. “They step in and play hard. It’s a team effort. I can’t say enough about our D-line, our linebackers. They played a phenomenal game. (Delta) really struggled at moving the ball.”
Palisade moved into scoring territory on its next possession and appeared set to put the game out of reach, but Nolan Britain picked off McLean.
The Panthers, though, weren’t able to take advantage of the turnover.
Britain intercepted McLean again in the fourth quarter, but Palisade’s JT Townsend picked off Whiteside on the next play and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown and a 28-7 lead with 4:01 left.
Delta’s Aaron Sakala scored on a 46-yard reception from David Whiteside with 2:01 left. The Panthers attempted an onside kick, but Palisade recovered and ran out the clock.