DURANGO — Explosive plays by Durango beat the methodical movement of Palisade on Saturday.
Behind three touchdowns of 30 yards or more, No. 7 Durango defeated No. 10 Palisade 23-14 in the opening round of the Class 3A playoffs. The Demons overcame 17 penalties for more than 100 yards to earn the win.
"It feels amazing to get out of here with a win," Durango junior QB Jordan Woolverton said. "Our crowd was amazing, and our offensive line played great. Penalties held us back, but we got those big plays, and it felt really good to have more of those than the other team to win this game."
Everett Howland had a huge game for Durango, as the senior running back rushed for 120 yards on 10 carries, including a 92-yard first-quarter touchdown. He also had a game-changing 64-yard touchdown reception in the final minute of the second quarter on a swing pass from Woolverton to help the Demons (8-3) take a 17-7 lead into halftime.
"All the credit to my blockers this game," Howland said. "I was untouched on two touchdowns. All the credit to them."
Palisade quarterback Cam Tucker had both of the Bulldogs' touchdowns. His 1-yard TD run on Palisade's opening drive of the third quarter capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive that brought the Bulldogs (7-4) within 17-14.
A 32-yard touchdown run by Woolverton with 9 minutes, 44 seconds to play in the fourth quarter solidified the win for the Demons. Woolverton spun out of a tackle, ran up the far sideline and used a stiff arm to work his way into the end zone.
"I haven't won a home playoff game in my high school career," Woolverton said. "To win this game and move on, it felt great to get that for this home crowd."
Woolverton completed 8 of 10 passes for 194 yards and one TD. He also ran for 68 yards and one score.
The loss ended the season for a Bulldogs team that reached the Class 3A semifinals a year ago.
"This class has been good. They made it to the semifinals last year and quarterfinals when they were freshmen," Palisade coach Joe Ramunno said. "It's disappointing this year. We fought some adversity, but that's the way it goes. Durango was better than us today."
The loss came during a week in which Palisade High School was closed because a virus that infected more than 300 students and staff members. Ramunno would not use potential illness amongst his players as an excuse and simply said his team didn't have enough firepower Saturday.
Palisade beat Durango 25-18 in Durango in the season opener on Sept. 6. In that game, Tucker rushed for 211 yards on 30 carries. This time, the Demons kept him to 71 yards and two touchdowns, but Tucker also had two key fumbles in the second half.
Julio Rodriguez was Palisade's leading rusher with 132 yards on 24 carries.
Durango did not turn either of Tucker's turnovers into points, but they came at costly times. The first was at the 4:45 mark of the third quarter, when Thomas Barnes ripped the ball away from Tucker. Ben Finneseth of Durango picked it up and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown, but the score was called back because of a penalty on the Demons.
Barnes recovered Tucker's other fumble after Woolverton's big fourth-quarter TD run. It came on the Durango 33-yard line, as the Bulldogs had marched 47 yards looking to make it a one-score game before the ball came out.
"Turnovers were big. That's the way it goes," Ramunno said. "They got some great athletes and very well-coached kids. It was a good victory for Durango. Hand it to them."