MONUMENT – The “13-0, one to go!” chants got louder as the home stands at Don Breese Stadium caught on.
For the first time in program history, Palmer Ridge is heading to a football state championship game after the Bears continued their undefeated roll with a 28-14 win over Palisade in the Class 3A semifinals on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s a huge statement to all the people who have helped us get to this point,” coach Tom Pulford said. “We have a ton of parent support, a great student section, great administrators. With all of those aspects supporting what we do, it gives us the opportunity to perform at the highest level and we’re excited for it.”
Powering the Bears in their semifinal victory was a dominant and balanced performance on all three phases. Palmer Ridge racked up over 400 total yards on offense, allowed just two scoring drives on defense and returned a kickoff for a touchdown on special teams.
Leading the way offensively for Palmer Ridge was sophomore running back Raef Ruel, who was a headache for the Bulldogs’ defense, finishing the game with 155 yards on 21 carries and three of his team’s four touchdowns.
“I’m speechless,” Ruel said after the game. “I just know that everyone has been working for this moment. All the coaches, all the players – we want this more than anything. We’re going to state. That’s amazing.”
In addition to its impressive run game, No. 2 Palmer Ridge (13-0) also had a strong attack through the air via junior quarterback Ty Evans, who presented a problem for No. 6 Palisade (10-4).
Evans connected on 11 of his 15 attempts and finished with 115 passing yards, 68 of which were reeled in by Anthony ‘Deuce’ Roberson II. The Bears experienced a scare late in the second quarter when Evans took a hit that kept him out of the game for the rest of the half. He then bounced back after halftime to return, and Pulford expects him to be fine for next week’s championship game against No. 5 Erie.
Saturday’s game remained close all the way into the fourth quarter before the Bears made it a two-score game with less than six minutes to play.
Palisade stayed in contention with a pair of rushing touchdowns from senior Terrance Williams, who finished with a team-high 108 yards. The Bulldogs tied the game late in the third quarter, but it was short-lived as Roberson II returned the ensuing kickoff 86 yards to the end zone just 13 seconds later.
From there, Palmer Ridge remained in control. Another Ruel touchdown and an interception by senior safety Cory McLellan then brought the win home.
“Hats off to them. That’s a well-coached team and they battled and grinded for all four quarters,” Pulford said. “That was a great opportunity for our kids to respond to some adversity. I was very proud of the way our kids responded.”
The Bears will clash with an 11-2 Erie team that is appearing in its first title game since 2008 next Saturday.