For the second consecutive year, the Rifle/Palisade game will feature the #1 and #2 ranked teams in the state of Colorado. In 2012, Rifle had comfortably held the #1 spot for six weeks before the game. This year the Bears have quietly worked their way up to #1. Some polls had the Bears as low as #5 to start 2013. With last week’s losses by #1 Silver Creek and #2 Elizabeth, the Bears are back in the top spot in both the coloradopreps.com and the chsaanow.com polls.
Palisade has also been forced to earn their respect. Some polls had the Bulldogs unranked at the beginning of the year, but five straight wins, including one over unbeaten 4A Durango has allowed Palisade to steadily climb the polls. Their current number 2 ranking matches their high-water mark from the 2012 season.
While the coloradopreps.com and the chsaanow.com polls get the most publicity in our state, there is one rankings system that ultimately means the most. This is the CHSAA rankings system. It is a mathematical formula rather than an opinion poll. This system will ultimately determine which teams will and which teams will not make the playoffs at the end of the year. rockyprep.com does a great job of tabulating these standings and according to the CHSAA formula, it is actually Palisade that is the number one team in the state. Coronado is #2 and Rifle comes in at #3.
Rifle has won the match-up for two consecutive years. Last year’s win was surprisingly emphatic with Rifle cruising to a 31-3 victory. In the 2011 game, Rifle jumped out to a big lead only to barely withstand a late Palisade charge. Expect this year’s game to play out more along the lines of 2011 than 2012. This one will be tight.
Palisade looks a bit different this year. Gone is long-time head coach John Arledge. In his place is a familiar face. Joe Ramunno won 4 consecutive state championships with the Bulldogs in the 1990s before taking the reins at Mesa State College. After Arledge and Palisade parted ways this offseason, Ramunno is back at the helm with the Bulldogs and is looking to repeat his previous success in Palisade.
Rifle vs. Palisade has turned into one of the great rivalries in 3A football. Before Ramunno came on board in the early 1990s, Palisade football was in shambles with a number of lopsided losses to the Bears. Ramunno changed that in a hurry, posting a win over the Bears in 1991 and then winning the next 6 games in the series. The rivalry was quiet for two years as the Bulldogs moved to 4A. In 2000 the Bulldogs moved back to 3A. Since 2000, Palisade holds a 8-6 edge in the series including a playoff win in 2003.
2013 may mark the last league game in a while between Rifle and Palisade. The Bulldogs look almost certain to move to the 4A classification next season.
What to Expect
Gone is the old Palisade offense. Ramunno brings with him the flexbone offense. While many flexbone formations are similar those used in Rifle’s Wing-T offense, the flexbone relies heavily on the triple option. It has been more than successful for the Bulldogs. Palisade has scored 224 points on the season (44.8 points per game). Quarterback Levi Hoaglund (#6) runs the show and is a formidable runner. Hoaglund is big, physical and fast and his 644 yards on the ground lead the Bulldogs. Complimenting him in the backfield is the lightning quick Dalton Hannigan (#23). Hannigan may be small of stature but is a huge home-run threat for Palisade. He has 634 yards on the season, averaging 126.8 yards per game and 13.21 yards per carry. The Bulldogs have attempted 23 passes on the season and have completed 8. Jack Millard (#10) is Hoaglund’s favorite target with 3 catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
Rifle will continue the balanced offensive approach that has allowed the Bears to score 239 points on the year (47.8 points per game). Look for Kellin Leigh (#22), Brock Clark (#8), and Javier Nuñez (#3) to share the running load. Meanwhile, quarterback Leyton Stutsman (#7) and receiver Austin Knight (#4) will likely be called upon to pick up yardage through the air from time to time. Leigh leads the Bears with 545 rushing yards. Clark has run for 435 and Nunez has tallied 391. Stutsman and Knight have connected 13 times for 251 yards and 2 touchdowns. In total Stutsman is 18 for 42 passing with 304 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have shown a few different fronts this season, but they seem most likely to use their 4-4 defense against the run-oriented Bears. Palisade is as tough as usual on the defensive side of the ball, allowing just 46 points in five games with two shut-outs. Senior Devan Lucero (#37) leads the Bulldogs in tackles with 24, followed closely by Drake Buford (#32) with 22. Senior Jack Millard (#10) leads Palisade in sacks with 3. Seven different Bulldogs own an interception in 2013.
Rifle’s defense has been stout this year, only giving up one touchdown (Glenwood) versus its starting 11. The Bears have shut out two opponents and given up just 20 points in five games. Junior Austin Shepard (#63) leads the Bears with 32 tackles. Senior Zach Bare (#66) leads Rifle with 6 sacks. Bailey Hoffmeister (#11) is the interceptions leader with 3.
Rifle High Bears reach top spot in 3A poll, will host No. 2 Palisade on Friday – Glenwood Post Independent
Western Slope League football teams could realign in 2014 – Glenwood Post Independent
Prep roundup: Rifle rolls past Battle Mountain to set up big matchup – Glenwood Post Indpendent
Determination – The Daily Sentinel (Subscription Required)
FOOTBALL: Week Six at a Glance – coloradopreps.com
rockyprep.com CHSSA Standings
Valor Christian returns to No. 1 in 5A football poll
Montrose Unanimous No. 1 in 4A, Rifle and Palisade Top 2 in 3A – KREXtv
Prep Football – Montrose & Rifle Ranked #1 – KJCT8
HS Football: Montrose, Rifle move into top spots in state rankings – KKCO 11 News
Palisade over Durango in a Battle of Undefeateds
A Look Back
Video highlights of the last two Rifle-Palisade match-ups: