When Palisade High School football players walk to their practice field, they tap a sign on a chain link fence that reads “Practice for perfection, settle for nothing less.”

The Bulldogs will need to be as close to perfect as possible if they hope to upset undefeated Lutheran on Saturday in Parker in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A playoffs.

“I don’t think we’ve played a game to our potential yet,” said senior linebacker Kevin Sjogren, who leads the state in tackles. “This week, if we play perfect, we’ll have them.”

The Bulldogs (9-2) are trying to build off of the momentum from defeating Pueblo East in the first round of the playoffs. In that game, the Bulldogs struggled to find separation between the Eagles until late in the third quarter, and won 35-21.

Although a double-digit win would be welcomed by any coach, it wasn’t always pretty.

Coach Joe Ramunno singled out tackling and the little fundamentals as the biggest areas for improvement.

“At this point in the season, every team is good. So, you gotta be smart and stick to your fundamentals,” Ramunno said. “With an offense like Lutheran’s, we have to be ready to line up and communicate with each other, and do our jobs. Turnovers will be big, too.”

Lutheran (11-0) is the second seed in the bracket and has scored fewer than 40 points only once this season. The Lions walloped Discovery Canyon last week 49-7 to open the playoffs.

Quarterback Clayton Jacobs is a dual-threat monster. The senior has thrown 25 touchdowns and only five interceptions on 200 pass attempts. On the ground, Jacobs has 84 carries for 886 yards — 10.5 yards per carry — and 17 touchdowns.

Sjogren is the man tasked with handling Jacobs.

At 6-foot-5, the senior inside linebacker can see how the offense lines up and make adjustments accordingly. His assignment is often to blitz the quarterback on pass plays or contain the quarterback or running back, depending on who is carrying the ball.

Sjogren, who has garnered Division I attention, has been playing football since he was 4 years old. He also plays tight end for the Bulldogs, but he has never questioned where he belonged on the field.

“It’s just a free feeling to play linebacker. I can do whatever I want, read my keys, fly across the field and just have fun,” he said.

Ramunno praised Sjogren’s talent, aptitude and presence on the team.

The inside linebacker can be a quarterback for the defense. Ramunno knows Sjogren has that, and that makes for a fierce combination when paired with his physical talent.

It’s a tough task for a team to be perfect, especially against an opponent with a perfect record. But if Sjogren and the Palisade defense are, then the Bulldogs have a real shot.

“The linebacker is like the kingpin for your defense, and Kevin is just the guy you want. First one in, last one out. Just a real hard working, blue collar guy,” Ramunno said. “If you have a bunch of Kevin’s, you’re gonna have a good football team.”

Ramunno knows perfection is hard to achieve. But he’s most excited how his team will get a test of strength this weekend.

”It’s a great opportunity for them to go against such a great team,” he said. “It’s great for them, for the coaches and for the community.”

The Bulldogs and Lions kickoff Saturday at 1 p.m. in Parker. The winner will advance to the semifinals against the winner of the Fort Morgan and Frederick game.


Montrose hasn’t budged on its approach to the postseason — one game at a time.

The Indians (11-0) host Fountain-Fort Carson (10-1) in a clash for 4A football titans at 6 p.m. tonight

The Indians are coming off of a 56-19 thrashing of Denver South. They were without their top running back Austin Griffin, but never missed a beat. The offense ran for 236 yards and coach Brett Mertens opened the playbook for quarterback Gage Wareham, who let loose. In his most action of the season, Wareham completed six of his nine passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns.

The Trojans have won eight straight games thanks to a potent rushing attack and a defense that has surrendered an average of 11 points per game during its winning streak. Senior running back Dezmen Oliver has 1,559 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns this season. In a 41-0 win over Golden in the second round of the playoffs, Oliver had 220 yards on the ground.