good punt, a bad punt and a fake punt helped Palisade boot Mead from the Class 3A football playoffs on Saturday.
The three special teams plays, plus a grind-it-out effort on offense, led Palisade to a 27-21 win in the quarterfinals at Stocker Stadium.
Quarterback Cam Tucker, who spent the afternoon bouncing off and dragging defenders for extra yardage, had 171 yards on 35 carries and two touchdowns.
Palisade took a 27-7 lead on Jason Bruce's 4-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter, then had to hold off a determined rally by the Mavericks.
"This is a good victory, that's a good football team there," Palisade coach Joe Ramunno said. "It got too close in the second half and we just played hang on, and we can't do that."
Bruce played a huge role in the Bulldogs' first-half success.
It was a battle of stout physical defenses in the first quarter when Mead forced Palisade into punt formation. That's when Bruce, as the punter, made a split-second evaluation and decided to take off on fourth-and-10 from the Bulldogs' 28. The speedy senior got to the sideline, then lowered his shoulder to power through another defender for a gain of 21. Ten plays later, Tucker capped the 16-play, 83-yard drive with a 10-yard run for a 7-0 lead.
The fake punt was all Bruce when he saw the opening.
"I hesitated for sure but I wasn't ready for that drive to stop yet," Bruce said smiling. "I saw a wide opening and I just took it, a full sprint all the way."
Ramunno said he was happy they got the first down.
"If you go for it, you better get it," he said with a laugh.
Mead forced a three-and-out on the Bulldogs' next drive and Bruce decided to boot the ball this time, and he drilled a low missile that went 59 yards with the roll to the 3-yard line.
Three plays later, Mead's punter drilled the kick right into the backside of a blocker in the end zone. Palisade linebacker Joseph Alejo dropped onto the football for the TD and a 14-0 lead.
"We know special teams wins us games, too," Bruce said. "Without that fake and the block punt that (Alejo) recovered, we wouldn't have been able to win this game."
On offense, it was just power football and moving the chains with third-down conversions, keeping Palisade on the move.
"It's what our style is," Ramunno said. "I think we had good yardage today but we had some problems that hurt some drives."
The Bulldogs finished with 325 rushing yards against a physical gang-tackling Mead unit.
After Mead running back Jake Wachter broke free for a 64-yard TD run, one of the few big running plays for the Mavericks, the score was 14-7 in the second quarter.
Palisade answered with 12-play, 65-yard drive, with Tucker scoring on an 8-yard run with 17 seconds left in the half to make the score 20-7.
Palisade then chewed about 10 minutes off the clock on two drives in the third quarter.
A 12-play drive that included four third-down conversions ate up more than six minutes, but the drive ended with a Bruce punt.
Mead fumbled the ball back to the Bulldogs three plays later and Tucker and the offense went back to work.
On third-and-7, Tucker had his longest run of the day, in which he broke a tackle and then buckled a defender's knees with a juke to finish with an 18-yard gain. Bruce capped the drive with his TD to give Palisade a 27-7 lead.
Mead made the score 27-14 with pass completions of 37 and 39 yards from Brady Veltien, and Nathan Bailey scored on a 9-yard run.
The Mavericks forced a three-and-out but Bruce made a great play from his defensive back position, reading a pass on a wide-receiver reverse and making the interception.
After another good defensive stand, the Mavericks got the ball back with six minutes left in the game.
After driving 59 yards to the 9, Mead pulled off a perfect trick play that was as ugly as it was effective.
Wachter took a handoff and tucked the ball away on a sweep, but then pulled up quick and made a pass that looked like a combination of a shot put and a basketball two-handed chest pass to a wide-open Nick Jacobs in the corner of the end zone for the score.
It all came down to the onside kick, and Palisade senior Jarett Brown made the recovery. With Mead out of timeouts, the Bulldogs ran out the clock.
Bruce said the game came down to picking up first downs.
"We struggled a little, but if we keep the chains moving, we can work the clock and the game will go in our favor," he said.
Palisade played good defense through three quarters and set the tone early when Mead was driving on its first possession.
Carlos Reyes sacked Veltien for an 8-yard loss, then Alejo knocked down a pass and defensive lineman Ricardo Valenzuela made a stop on third down.
"At the beginning we were really solid and we got a little lazy in the second half but we were able to pick it up and get the win," Valenzuela said.
Palisade will host its third straight playoff game when Palmer Ridge comes to Stocker Stadium on Saturday for the 3A semifinals.
It will be the second straight year the two teams will meet in the semifinals. Palmer Ridge won last year's game 28-14 and went on to win the 3A state title.