Who'd a thought it?
At the beginning of the season, the Moffat County High School Bulldogs started with four starters from a 3-7 team. The Palisade Bulldogs started the season with six seniors and four returning starters.
Needless to say, the outside expectations weren't high.
After already notching playoff spots, the two preseason non-favorites meet at 7 p.m. Saturday in Palisade to decide second and third place in the Western Slope Conference.
"Based on outside expectations, we are two over-achieving teams," said Palisade coach Todd Casebier. "Our teams are both on a roll since losing to Rifle and we're anxious for this game."
Palisade has thrived on offense this season, averaging 36 points per game and amassing more than 3,700 yards on offense, the best in 3A. They are led by senior running back Travis Bounds, who has 1,379 yards on the ground and has been a top four rusher in the state all season. Pounding the ball with Bounds isn't all the Bulldogs have, "We have a pretty balanced offense with over 1,000 passing yards as well," Casebier said.
MCHS defensive coordinator Lance Scranton said his defense was up against some schemes they hadn't faced this season the last time they played Palisade.
"They have the most complex offense we've seen all year," he said. "They overload the secondary by bringing out a back from the back field almost every play."
Scranton said for his defense to hold an offense that has been unstoppable in conference play 41 ppg it has to apply pressure to quarterback Dustin Harris (63 completions, 1,101 yds).
"In the games they've been stopped, the quarterback was running all over the place," he said. "This is a big game for our d-line and ends."
Defensive ends senior Alan Horrocks and junior Nick Goodenow have anchored a defense that is allowing 13.6 ppg in conference play. Goodenow is one of the state leaders in sacks with 11.
"The defense just has to keep doing what it's been doing," head coach Kip Hafey said. "It is probably their biggest challenge of the year."
A challenge that Casebier foresees for his team is the ability of Moffat County to platoon with different starters on both sides of the ball.
"You could see in the Steamboat game which team was the freshest in the second half," he said. "We don't have the amount of athletes (Moffat County) does and we rely on them on both sides of the ball. We need to stay fresh or they'll run over us in the second half."
The winner Saturday will more than likely host a first-round playoff game against either Fort Morgan or Alamosa and the loser will face Pueblo County in Pueblo. The trip to the south east of Colorado isn't too appealing to either coach. With a winner staying at home, both teams are treating the final conference game of the season as the first playoff game.
"This is going to be just like a playoff game," Casebier said. "It will be a big fight over field position and a struggle to win the turnover battle."
Hafey, who was an assistant at Palisade five years ago, expects to see the same defense that has held the WSC to 13.6 ppg and the same offense that had possession of the ball 30 of the 48 minutes in the Steamboat game.
"Nobody expected us to be able to do what we did against Steamboat and it's the same with Palisade," he said. "But, as always, the coaches have done a great job preparing the team and we believe in our system and we're ready to go."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.