MONUMENT — Palmer Ridge coach Tom Pulford snapped awake at 3:30 a.m. on Thursday. He couldn't get the first game he coached out of his head. It was a game at Montrose, a game the Bears lost by 39 points.
The next year they lost by 41. Those games lingered through his head more than 12 hours ahead of kickoff at a time when most people would take advantage of their time to rest. But Pulford couldn't get a sense of urgency out of his head.
That urgency made its way onto the field as Class 4A No. 2 Palmer Ridge overcame a tough first half to beat No. 7 Montrose 42-20.
"The urgency was high," Pulford. "Everyone's got a plan until you get punched in the mouth."
And that's how Montrose started the day. Three stout defensive plays that led to a Palmer Ridge punt. Then Montrose blocked the punt. Austin Griffin led the ground effort for Montrose on that first drive and punched the ball in from six yards out.
He added a second rushing touchdown after Montrose got the ball back when Eli Evans intercepted Palmer Ridge quarterback Luke McAllister. The high-flying offense of Palmer Ridge found itself down 14-7 at halftime.
Montrose threw a couple of haymakers and caught the Bears (4-0 overall, 3-0 Western Slope) right in the mouth.
Then the game got urgent. Montrose (3-1, 2-1) was set to get the ball to start the second half but the Bears surprised everyone with an onside kick. Two plays later, McAllister found Anthony Costanzo for a 13-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.
Urgency then turned into rhythm and the Bears were back to their usual comfort level.
"Once we got it figured out, we were rolling," McAllister said. "They couldn't stop us."
McAllister threw three total touchdown passes in the second half, finding Nathaniel Robinson and Cam Jones on the others.
When Jones caught McAllister's pass to get the score to the eventual final 42-20 it was actually his second touchdown reception on the night. McAllister took a hard hit in the second quarter and had to come out on the play.
Backup Jimmy Thomas played one snap and threw one pass which found Jones for a 97-yard score.
"Jimmy is calm, cool and collected," Pulford.
He praised the growth of Thomas behind McAllister just like McAllister received behind Ty Evans and like Evans received behind Isaiah Sanders.
By the time the Bears had departed the field, the score would indicate a typical night, but this was perhaps the first time all year that they had been put on their heels early and needed a spark, like two onside kick recoveries, to really get the offense in a groove.
"I don't really have words," Montrose coach Brett Mertens said. "It's just one of those things. It doesn't always go your way. The first one we had a chance at and the second one we weren't even close."
Despite a rough first half, McAllister finished with a banner night completing 19 of 30 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns. He overcame throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble to get the Bears their biggest win since moving up to 4A.
"I know my team has my back all the time," McAllister said. "Right after I threw that pick they kept telling me to keep my head up and focus on the next play. I love the team and the way they handle things."
The way they handled things on Friday should let their coach get a couple more hours of sleep in the coming days.