As though his hand was on a steering wheel, Palisade High School running back Dalton Hannigan rested his hand on the hip of pulling guard Zane Stewart. Hannigan directed Stewart at a Moffat County outside linebacker, and with one sharp cut was inside Stewart’s block and upfield for a 64-yard touchdown.
“Zane became my new best friend tonight,” Hannigan said.
The run broke a 14-14 third-quarter tie and had the Palisade football team on its way to a 35-14 win over Moffat County at Stocker Stadium.
Before that, Moffat County, sixth place in the 3A Western Slope Conference, was playing with nothing to lose. It began the game with two onside kicks. It went for it on fourth down. Even more, on its first offensive play, backed up to its own six-yard line, Moffat County quarterback Bubba Ivers was off for a 94-yard touchdown.
Palisade (8-2, 6-2) will await its state playoff opponent that will be announced Sunday.
Hannigan finished with 147 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
Ivers finished with 186 yards rushing. Twice when Moffat County was making lengthy drives in a hurry-up offense, Palisade coach John Arledge helped slow Moffat County with timeouts — and some simple words.
Arledge said his basic messages were: “Just play the way you’re supposed to play. Don’t do the extraordinary; just do the ordinary. Don’t beat yourself because you’re not disciplined.”
Moffat County began the second half in a hurry-up offense. And it scored fast on its opening drive as Ivers rushed for 30 yards, passed for 19 and ended the drive with a 15-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 14.
Palisade fumbled the ball away on its next possession, and Moffat County took over at its 40-yard line. Again in the hurry-up, Moffat County drove to the Palisade 28.
Then, Palisade called a timeout. Arledge delivered his “be ordinary” message. And Palisade stopped the drive by getting into the backfield for Moffat County losses on three straight plays.
Moffat County turned the ball over on downs, Palisade took over, and that’s when Stewart made the block that sprung Hannigan 64 yards to put Palisade ahead, 20-14.
“He set me up for that block,” Stewart said. “I love that when I see (Hannigan) running downfield. I have joy for me and for him, for both of us.”
Moffat County head coach Kip Hafey bemoaned his team's missed opportunities.
"Two turnovers there in the second half really got us," Hafey said. "Those are hard to come up from and that was kind of it. Our kids did outstanding. It was an absolutely valiant effort by our young men."
Hannigan scored the game’s final three touchdowns.
Palisade quarterback Luke McLean was steady and bullish, running for 83 yards and passing for 80. In the first quarter, one series after Palisade was stopped on fourth-and-one from its 47-yard line, McLean strung together runs of 13, 15 and 10 yards, the final being a touchdown as Palisade went ahead 7-6.
Then McLean warmed his arm. On Palisade’s next drive, he completed a 17-yard pass to Jack Millard and a 32-yard touchdown pass to Levi Hoaglund to put Palisade ahead 14-6.
As much respect as Arledge has for his own starting quarterback, he had ample respect for the one across the field. Not just for Ivers’ speed, but for his ability to survive multiple hits from multiple defenders.
“I love my players,” Arledge said, “but he’s probably the toughest kid we’ve played against.”