PUEBLO — Following a brief celebration of their third consecutive Class 3A state football title, Palmer Ridge High School coaches and players gave their thanks to the numerous members of their team and community.
Those minute details paved the way for the Bears all season and did so again at the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl on Saturday in their 35-13 win over Pueblo South.
It was the second time the Bears defeated Pueblo South in Pueblo this season. They won 24-19 on Sept 27, which was also at the ThunderBowl.
Bears coach Tom Pulford stressed how difficult it is to defeat a team twice in one season, let alone two times on their turf.
“Hats off to South, they did a great job in all three phases of the game,” Pulford said. “They did a good job on defense and limited what we could do in the run game. We made some adjustments with our personnel but they still were stout against the run.”
Not off the bat, however.
After the Bears (12-2) forced a three-and-out on the Colts’ first drive, Palmer Ridge took over at the 50 and needed four plays to reach pay dirt.
Raef Ruel did the dirty work with a 37-yard run on first and 10 down the sideline to give the Bears a lead they did not relinquish. Zach Pribyl’s kick made it 7-0 with 8:03 left in the first.
South (12-2) forced a three-and-out in the second quarter and, after a late hit put the Colts at Palmer Ridge’s 32, the Colts got on the board.
South’s work horse George Longoria cut to his right and went up the gut untouched for a 23-yard touchdown run. Jackson Tondera’s kick made it 7-7 with 8:43 left in the half.
From that point, though, the Bears cleaned house.
Palmer Ridge outscored South 28-6 the remainder of the contest and the game’s most valuable player, Luke McAllister finished 8-for-17 with 272 yards and four touchdowns.
“We practiced really hard for this week and we knew they were going to be hungry,” McAllister said. “Two in a row against a team is hard to do. I can’t be more proud of us and how we practiced.”
McAllister began to cook and hooked up with his receivers for scores on back-to-back drives.
McAllister connected with Kaden Dudley on an 87-yard pass to make it 14-7 after the field goal.
McAllister, a Colorado State University commit, followed that with a 20-yard strike to Anthony Roberson and, after the kick, the Bears led 21-7.
Palmer Ridge extended its lead to 28-7 after Dudley broke free for an 81-yard reception, which was McAllister’s third TD toss of the afternoon. Dudley’s two TD grabs went for 168 yards.
“He saved me on that,” McAllister said of his first TD toss to Dudley. “At that point I knew what I wanted, I saw him open and I took a shot downfield. I got hit on it and he made a great play and took off. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
South marched 80 yards in nine plays and quarterback Logan Petit found the end zone on a 3-yard scamper to cut the Bears’ lead to 28-13 with 8:23 left in the third.
But the might of Palmer Ridge proved too much.
McAllister escaped the defense and found Marcellus Reed for a completion and he broke free from South’s defense to take it 53 yards for the score. The ensuing kick made it 35-13 with 5:50 left in the third.
The Bears came up with two interceptions in the second half with Reed snagging one along with his touchdown.
“We got the call from coach and I trusted our guys,” Reed said. “I see the quarterback launch the ball and I had to go get that for my brothers because I know since day one they’ve been doing it for me.”
That pick on 3rd-and-5 with 3:54 left in the third, followed by Roberson’s interception with 3:18 on the clock, thwarted South’s momentum and put a kibosh on the Colts comeback attempt.
The Bears continue to be a thorn in the side of Pueblo.
Last season, Palmer Ridge earned its second consecutive title by defeating Pueblo East 47-38.
In addition to their win this season, the Bears ended South’s playoff run last year in the first round with a 41-7 victory.
Pulford said the team overcame a lot to make it to this point. To grab a third title in as many years was a fitting end to the Bears’ season.
“This was super important for everyone to play so well,” Pulford said. “This was the last opportunity for the seniors to be out on the field together and the challenge was to rise up against whatever adversity we saw. I think our kids rose above that challenge. There’s always things you wish you could do better but the end result and process we took to get there is something I’m thankful for.”