New year, new stars, new rules in the era of COVID-19, same old Palisade approach.
The Bulldogs rode a stingy defense, effective ground game and opportunistic passing to rout Battle Mountain 49-15 on Thursday night in their Stocker Stadium opener. Palisade is off to a 2-0 start in its pursuit of a fifth straight Class 3A Western Slope Conference title, its defense not allowing a point until the third quarter of its second game.
“We’re just grateful to be playing football right now,” Palisade coach Joe Ramunno said. “It was a good event for our entire school, getting everybody out and doing this. I’m proud of our players because they’ve worked extremely hard, and in this day and age, football’s a tough game. We practice and work hard and they’re getting the benefits tonight.”
Palisade roared out to a 28-0 halftime lead, scoring on four of its six drives. The first drive was a methodical march culminating in Gabe Harrison’s only completion of the night — a 23-yard fade route to Jaden Spears.
On the next drive, Spears broke tackles and spun his way to gains of 27 and 34 yards before leaving with an injury. Franklin Barks capped the drive with a 5-yard run on a pitch to the left for a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
Harrison’s 6-yard plunge up the gut in the second quarter capped a methodical drive for a three-score lead. The senior quarterback, who started three games last season, was the Bulldogs’ top rusher in the win with 109 yards on 17 carries. He gained 56 of those yards on his second touchdown run of the game in the third quarter.
“I know I’ve got a great team that’s going to block for me and carry out fakes, and I’ve got some great running backs that I can use as my weapons, so it’s easy to be comfortable in an offense like this,” Harrison said.
Palisade’s offensive effort was supplemented by a strong defensive performance. The Bulldogs limited the Huskies (0-2) to 38 first-half yards and kept them off the scoreboard until the third quarter. Palisade’s defense finished the game allowing seven first downs, 215 total yards and two touchdowns, the second on the game’s final play.
With the offense and defense turning in a workmanlike, physical performance, Ramunno wasn’t above sprinkling in some razzle-dazzle.
Leading 21-0 and at the Battle Mountain 27-yard line, Harrison pitched the football to Barks, who rolled left and launched a pass to a wide-open Jayse Bush for a 28-0 lead with 4 minutes, 33 seconds left until halftime. Later in the game, Barks threw another touchdown pass, a 15-yarder to Phallen Salvati in the fourth quarter. Several times during the game, players other than Harrison thought about throwing the ball before tucking it and running.
“We have to (be creative) a little bit,” Ramunno said. “Gabe threw the first touchdown, Jaden made a great catch down there, but we do have the potential to (have other players throw). That’s good because we can back people out of the box a little bit.”
Barks finished the game with 50 yards rushing — Palisade ran for 356 yards as a team — but his two touchdown passes were what made this a memorable game for the junior.
“Man, it’s crazy; I played one game in my whole life as a varsity QB before this one,” Barks said. “To come out here and get the chance to throw two touchdowns and execute, that’s a great feeling... We’re a versatile team. The coaches are looking to put the players where we need to be. If he tells me to go out at QB, I’ll go out at QB and execute.”