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Palmer Ridge became a Class 3A football juggernaut with three consecutive Colorado state championships before moving up to 4A this season. Might bigger and better competition derail the Bears’ dynasty?
No chance. Palmer Ridge is one win away from a fourth straight state title.
“We always love a challenge and love competition,” senior Palmer Ridge wide receiver Kaden Dudley said. “We came into this season knowing it was going to be a lot more difficult and a lot more challenging. … It’s been super fun playing in 4A this year proving a lot of the doubters wrong that we’ve had along this path.”
The No. 2 Bears (6-0) face No. 4 Loveland (8-0) for a significant contrast in styles. Loveland’s run-first approach produces results with 340 ground yards per game and 16 rushing touchdowns from senior running back Zack Rakowsky. The Palmer Ridge recipe for success? Air it out.
“We like to throw the ball,” Dudley said.
The speedy 6-foot, 190-pound wide receiver would know. Dudley is considered the No. 11 college prospect in the state for the Class of 2021, per 247Sports, with more than 1,500 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns over three varsity seasons at Palmer Ridge. Dudley committed to Boise State this summer and he’s not the only Bears pass catcher who will play at the next level, either.
Cameron Jones, a senior tight end, has multiple preferred walk-on and small school scholarship offers. Senior wide receiver Marcellus Reed is committed to Division-II powerhouse Pitt State. Anthony Costanzo, a lengthy 6-foot-3 junior wide receiver, holds scholarship offers from Colorado and Colorado State. And additional underclassmen have also flashed talent.
It’s a wealth of receiving options for senior quarterback Luke McAllister — a 4,300-yard career passer committed to play up the road at CSU next fall.
“We’ve all been with Luke for a long time, so the chemistry is just amazing,” Dudley said.
“When they try to double-up on one of us, it just leaves one of the other ones open,” Dudley continued. “Each week, a different one of our receivers will have a super big game. That’s what we’re used to that this point. Every receiver has a role and the route concepts we have built-in to the playbook allow for someone to get open.”
Palmer Ridge coach Tom Pulford is quick to credit the improved play of his offensive line and growth at every position on the roster for why the Bears are in position for a fourth title. But Pulford says that his “wide receiver corps is the strength of our team.”
For reasons beyond just gawdy statistics.
“We’ve maybe had receiving corps in the past that have had an equal amount of talent, but maybe didn’t have that brotherhood and love for each other that is as strong as the one we have right now,” Pulford said. “This year posed unique opportunities for kids to respond to adversity.”
Palmer Ridge sat out two games this season with a 14-day quarantine period for the entire team and bounced back with double-digit victories in each of their playoff games. The Bears’ final challenge is outdueling a Loveland defense that has forced 20 turnovers over eight games. The 4A newcomers are ready for the challenge.
“To be able to have our offense on display against a really great team,” Dudley said, “I think it will open a lot of eyes as to what we have going on at Palmer Ridge.”