A pair of quick scores gave Palisade High School's football team an early lead Thursday night. A key defensive play in the fourth quarter against Durango ensured the Bulldogs would keep that lead.
Jason Bruce gave the Bulldogs the lead by returning the game's opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown, and his tackle to stop a long drive from the Demons in the fourth quarter preserved Palisade's 20-3 season-opening victory at Stocker Stadium.
"For us to get up like that was huge, but ... for us to get that tackle, that was a great play," Palisade junior quarterback Cam Tucker said. "Really, that kind of gave us the momentum and set up the drive that gave us the ball back so we could seal it."
Tucker had a big part in helping the Bulldogs, ranked fourth in the CHSAAnow.com coaches and media poll, take command early on. Not long after Bruce's game-opening touchdown, Tucker intercepted a pass from Durango quarterback Jordan Woolverton and returned it 23 yards for a TD, diving over the pylon to reach the end zone for a 13-0 Palisade lead with 10:40 left in the first quarter.
Scoring chances were sparse from there, with Palisade stiffening on defense when the Demons came close to the red zone, but stalling on offense with drive-stopping penalties. The Bulldogs overcame those mistakes and put together a flawless game-sealing drive in the fourth quarter.
Palisade had already moved past Thursday's game not long after it ended, opting to focus on what to fix instead of what went right.
"We have a bunch of things to work on," said Bruce, who also had a first-quarter fumble recovery to go with his 189 all-purpose yards. "We can't have all kinds of stupid penalties like we did and make stupid mistakes like we did tonight. This is a learning experience we'll grow from."
Woolverton finished 20 for 34 for 215 yards for Durango. He started the second half hitting his first eight passes and 10 of his first 11 throws, but Durango was limited to 66 rushing yards on 25 carries, including only 18 in the first half.
The Demons had a chance to cut into Palisade's 13-3 lead when a bad punt from the Bulldogs set the Demons up with a first down on Palisade's 35. Woolverton, however, was sacked for 19-yard loss before the Bulldogs forced Durango into a fourth-and-23 on Palisade's 48.
Punter and running back Dawson Marcum, who led Durango with 76 rushing yards, rolled right and cut to his left to open space. Bruce, who was back to receive the punt, was joined by another Palisade player and tackled Marcum near the sideline one yard before the first-down marker.
"At first I was like, 'catch the punt, catch the punt,' " Bruce said. "But then I saw the guy coming around the corner and kept saying, 'Gotta get there! Gotta get there!' "
That defensive play shifted momentum into the favor of the Palisade offense, which capped an 11-play, 73-yard drive with a 3-yard TD run from Tucker that made it a three-possession game with 2:48 remaining.
"Every defensive stand was big," Palisade coach Joe Ramunno said. "Our defense played some good football at times, and it set our offense up there. But offense is where we need to get better, and we'll work on that."