The race for the 4A Western Slope crown is heating up in the waning weeks of the 2020 season. Palmer Ridge, Montrose and Ponderosa remain undefeated heading into Week 4. But Friday, one team will take a step forward in league standings as the Bears host the Montrose Indians in a battle of unbeatens.
With a 6 p.m. kickoff at Don Breese Stadium, the event will feature opposing offensive schemes as Palmer Ridge famously relies on its solid passing game, while Montrose puts in most of its work on the ground.
The three-time 3A state champion Bears have stormed through their first season competing in Class 4A with a 3-0 record, outscoring opponents 146-7 and haven’t allowed a touchdown since the fourth quarter of their season opener against Golden.
The defense, which allowed just 146 rushing yards and 75 passing through its first two games, is led by senior linebackers Kelenn O’connor and Saxon Wright, with 18 and 17 tackles through three games, respectively. Wright and fellow senior Cameron Jones lead with two sacks each, and Jones is third on the team in tackles with 12. Sophomore Josh Gerlach has two interceptions for 91 yards, and Wright has recovered two fumbles.
Palmer Ridge coach Tom Pulford said Montrose presents formations that have the potential to throw the Bears off their axis, but quoted Chuck Noll to his team Wednesday evening: "'Champions are champions not because they do anything extraordinary but because they do the ordinary things better than anyone else.'"
“The little things, those are really the things we are trying to get better at right now,” Pulford said. “And if we do that the big picture will take care of itself.”
The Palmer Ridge offense leads the conference averaging 396 yards, leaning on its passing game led by senior quarterback Luke McAllister.
The second-year starter has thrown for 761 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging over 250 passing yards per game and has just two interceptions. Senior Marcellus Reed leads the team with 309 receiving yards and three touchdowns on nine catches, while Kaden Dudley has 10 catches for 160 yards. Junior Anthony Costanzo has seven catches, five for touchdowns, and 141 yards.
The Bears average 142 yards on the ground led by junior Connor Cook with 146 yards. Logan Reichart, Nathan Robinson, McAllister and Wright also chip in to help balance the Palmer Ridge offensive attack. Wright has three rushing touchdowns and Robinson has two.
"(Saxon Wright) has this unique ability to punish people who try to tackle him and we are confident he is going to fall forward and get those yards after contact," Pulford said.
Montrose, which has outscored opponents 119-45, is a bit of a mystery without game stats uploaded to MaxPreps.
The Indians will return starting quarterback Keegan Goodwin who had 561 passing yards and six touchdowns as a junior, but replaced its top two rushers who made up for more than 2,150 rushing yards last year. Trent Blundell is the team’s top returning running back coming off a 850-yard, seven-touchdown junior campaign.
“Montrose can throw in some matchups that if we are not careful they can sting us,” Pulford said. “Any play can go for six, so if we are not doing the little things right we are going to be susceptible to what Montrose throws at us.”
Montrose is coming off a 48-6 win over Grand Junction last week, the team’s most dominant performance of the year so far. Palmer Ridge defeated the Tigers 49-0 the week before.
INDIANS-BEARS AT A GLANCE
Game data: Montrose Indians (3-0) vs. Palmer Ridge Bears (3-0) … 6 p.m. Friday at Don Breese Stadium.
Media: Follow @LindseySquints on Twitter for live updates throughout the game, and check GazettePreps.com for a highlight video, story and photo gallery, delivered by Pizza Hut.
COVID-19 restrictions: All ticket distribution is being handled by the Palmer Ridge athletic department. No tickets will be sold at the gate.