A 3A Central football champion will be crowned Thursday night.
Will it be reigning 3A champion Palmer Ridge, or will Discovery Canyon clinch its first league title since 2016? Time of possession will tell, but first each team will need to learn from their past losses.
The Bears’ last loss came in early October when Pine Creek handed them their first defeat since August 2018. Palmer Ridge had trouble stopping the Pine Creek run game, which may prove to be a challenge as Discovery Canyon boasts one of the top rushing offenses in the state, averaging 310 yards per game.
Senior Marshall Pike has 1,323 yards on the season, averaging 150 per game and has rushed for 20 touchdowns. First-year starting quarterback Jonah Isakson has passed for 687 yards and rushed for 404 more.
Palmer Ridge coach Tom Pulford said since his team’s loss to Pine Creek it has worked on analyzing opposing offensive formations to help prepare for another run-heavy threat.
“They do a good job with Marshall Pike and all of their running backs, and their quarterback (Isakson) is very effective,” Pulford said. “It’s going to be a tough test but we are looking forward to the opportunity and know that all 11 guys are going to have to do their job on Thursday.”
Discovery Canyon’s lone loss came from the hands of Pueblo South and a balanced offensive attack that struck early.
Thursday the Thunder will need to find an answer for Palmer Ridge’s newfound balance.
The Bears average 178 yards passing and 177.2 yards rushing per game, a stark contrast from the 264-yard passing average from 2017.
“The offensive line has done a really good job sustaining their blocks and opening up holes for our run game, and our pass has been effective,” Pulford said. "Luke McAllister is having a good year bringing balance to our offense.”
McAllister has thrown for 1,363 yards as a first-year varsity starter. The junior has 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Senior Deuce Roberson is McAllister’s top target with 728 yards and nine touchdowns, while Raef Ruel balances out the Bears’ offense leading the rushing game with 902 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“There were a lot of issues against Pueblo South and it was really a good lesson in a lot of ways,” said Discovery Canyon coach Shawn Mitchell. “We learned some things outside of the Xs and Os and to be honest (Thursday) is really going to come down to being able to do some things outside of the Xs and Os.”
Mitchell talked about the importance of solid tackling against Roberson, Ruel and receiver Kaden Dudley.
“They’re slippery guys who can make big plays,” Mitchell said. “They’ll make you miss and when they do they’ll go the distance.”
The Bears’ secondary is the best in the state with 19 interceptions led by junior Marcellus Reed with five. According to MaxPreps box scores, the Palmer Ridge defense has allowed just 802 passing yards this season.
Discover Canyon averages 85 passing yards per game — an increase of more than 20 yards from last season thanks to Isakson and a host of Thunder receivers. Isakson was 0 for 2 last week against Lutheran, but threw for a career-high 151 yards and two touchdowns against Lewis-Palmer.
Senior Ethan Hall is the Thunder’s top receiver with 409 yards and five touchdowns.
While a win will mean a conference championship and bragging rights, both teams will play again next week in the first round of the 3A state tournament — it’s only a matter of where they’ll be seeded.
As of Sunday when the RPI standings were last updated, Discovery Canyon was ranked fourth in 3A followed by Palmer Ridge with just .002 points separating their RPI. Pueblo South, which Palmer Ridge defeated in Week 4, is the top-ranked 3A team, followed by Mead and Conifer, respectively.
“We learned lessons against South, and they are up there (in the rankings) and I think we will learn some valuable lessons against Palmer Ridge,” Mitchell said. “The ideal scenario is to walk away with a win and eventually a state championship, but we are going to play postseason football, and there will certainly be some things we can take away from a game like this no matter what the outcome."