LAKEWOOD — The plan for Palmer Ridge senior Raef Ruel was to get a little dirty Saturday night at Jeffco Stadium.
“I’m kind of proud that I’m filthy,” said Ruel who had the dirtiest jersey on the field after rushing for well over 200 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-21 Class 3A football state semifinal victory over Green Mountain.
Palmer Ridge squares off against Pueblo South in the 3A state championship game next Saturday at Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl on the campus of Colorado State University-Pueblo. The No. 2-seeded Colts defeated Fredrick 28-24 in the other 3A semifinal played in Pueblo.
The Bears versus Colts will be a rematch from earlier this season. Palmer Ridge edged Pueblo South 24-19 at the ThunderBowl.
“I know Pueblo South is hungry for that,” Ruel said of the showdown in Pueblo next Saturday. “We played them early in the season and I’m sure they want revenge on us.”
The two-time defending 3A state champions were in a tight battle early in the fourth quarter Saturday night in Lakewood. Green Mountain senior quarterback Trey Towndrow’s 27-yard touchdown run with 10:24 left in the fourth quarter cut Palmer Ridge’s lead to 21-14, but the Bears answered in the hurry.
Palmer Ridge (11-2 record) marched 78 yards in four plays, all carries by Ruel who finished out the drive with a 23-yard touchdown run.
“I’m pretty sure we ran the same play four times in a row there,” Ruel said of his third touchdown run that pushed the Bears’ lead back up to a two-score game at 27-14. “We were all kind of getting nervous because (Green Mountain) is a good team. They hit hard and a well-coached. When we answered back it relieved some stress.”
A fourth touchdown run by Ruel and a 52-yard kickoff return by senior Anthony Roberson II for a touchdown on an onside kick attempt by the Rams allowed the Bears to reach the 40-point mark for the 11th time this season.
Facing a stiff north wind Palmer Ridge’s vaunted passing attack had to make some adjustments. Palmer Ridge junior quarterback Luke McAllister didn’t throw a touchdown pass for only the second time this season. Instead, the Bears went to their running attack spearheaded by Ruel and aided by their massive offensive line.
“It’s tough,” Green Mountain coach Jesse German said matching up against Palmer Ridge’s size up-front. “They are a really big team. We just couldn’t anchor down the B and C gap well enough. There were creases there and he (Ruel) found them.”
Palmer Ridge jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter with a 9-yard touchdown run by senior Noah Brom and 22-yard rushing score Ruel.
Green Mountain cut the Bears’ lead in half midway through the second quarter. Towndrow weaved his way into the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown to make it a 14-7 lead for Palmer Ridge. Towndrow accounted for all three of the Rams’ touchdowns in the season-end loss for Green Mountain (10-3).
“I’m just really proud of this team and these seniors,” German said. “They have done so much to change the culture.”
Green Mountain’s last trip to the state semifinals came back in 1999 when the Rams won the Class 4A state championship.
Palmer Ridge is heading back to its third straight 3A title game. The Bears defeated Erie and Pueblo East in the previous two 3A championship games. Palmer Ridge is 37-4 over the past three seasons.