Pushing for playoffs: Palisade tops Rifle, holds out hope for postseason berth
When Plan A isn’t working, go with Plan B.
For years, Palisade High School football has been synonymous with a powerful ground game.
This year’s Bulldog team has had to venture away from that at times.
Thursday was a case in point.
The Rifle defense did an effective job of shutting down the Bulldogs’ running game. Palisade consequently decided to go with the pass.
The strategy worked as the Bulldogs closed out their regular season with a 21-7 victory at Stocker Stadium.
“It’s just a game-time adjustment,” Palisade assistant coach and offensive coordinator Matt Borgmann said.
Actually, the Bulldogs put a few wrinkles in their game plan this week.
“We added some new plays this week so we wanted to surprise them,” Palisade quarterback Jordan Salazar said.
After getting their initial first down on their opening drive, the Bulldogs (6-4, 6-2 Western Slope Conference) caught the Bears off guard with a pass play to the left side to running back Ronald Kuntz, who ran 45 yards to the Rifle 23. That set up Salazar’s pass over the middle to Kelly Davis two plays later, good for a 20-yard touchdown play with barely two minutes gone.
Rifle (3-6, 2-5) hitched most of its offensive wagon to running back Ty Lenard. The senior workhorse, who rushed 22 times for a game-high 135 yards, got the Bears on the board with 21⁄2 minutes remaining in the first half on a 21-yard run in which he broke two tackles.
The Palisade defense had a tough time stopping Lenard but did an effective job of keeping Rifle’s passing game in check, picking off three James Martinez pass attempts.
That included sophomore free safety Jeremy Townsend’s interception midway through the third quarter. Townsend got the ball at the Rifle 8-yard line and saw nothing but end zone ahead of him to put Palisade ahead 14-7.
“I just watched the quarterback’s eyes,” Townsend said. “I wasn’t expecting it. I expected him to run up the middle but he threw it out (wide).”
The Rifle defense held Palisade’s rushing game to just 92 yards.
“They did a great job of shutting down our running game,” Borgmann said.
He decided to go through the air. Salazar connected on three key passes on a 10-play drive to set up Sean Dunn’s 5-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter for the deciding margin.
“(Salazar) can read it,” Borgmann said of the quarterback’s ability to find the open receiver rather than lock in on just one.
Salazar connected on nine of 16 attempts for 143 yards to four different receivers.
“We have a lot of guys I can throw to — running backs, wide receivers, tight ends,” Salazar said.
Now Palisade plays the waiting game. The Bulldogs have next week, the last week of the regular season, off and must wait until the following weekend to find out if they will earn one of three wild-card berths in the Class 3A state playoffs.
“You treat (the week of practice) like you’re going (to the playoffs),” Borgmann said.
And maybe install two or three new plays in the process, just to surprise opposing defenses.