MONUMENT - There haven’t been many teams who learned how to stop Palmer Ridge’s juggernaut Raef Ruel when needed.
And Conifer was no exception.
Ruel, a senior, ran for five touchdowns as the No. 5 Lobos had no answers for the Bears’ ground game in a 56-35 Palmer Ridge victory, punching the team’s ticket to the Class 3A semifinals.
Palmer Ridge, the No. 4 seed, will face No. 8 Green Mountain on Saturday on the road. The Rams upset No. 1 Mead 30-21 in the quarterfinals.
Conifer didn’t go down easy, however, scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter, but with experience on its side Palmer Ridge remained calm.
“I think having been here before and knowing what to expect you never know what way adversity is going to arise, but you can expect it,” Palmer Ridge coach Tom Pulford said. “And I think our guys responded well to it today.”
The Lobos recovered two onside kicks to gain three straight possessions to score back-to-back touchdowns, but the third drive was cut short thanks to an interception in the end zone by senior Kieran Fry.
The Bears had four interceptions, including two from Fry. Senior Saxon Wright had an interception and a sack at opportune times to shut down Conifer’s building momentum.
"We were getting tired towards the end so when we had a chance to make a difference in the game I’m glad we could do it,” Wright said.
Wright was also the lead blocker for Ruel on many of his rushes.
While Palmer Ridge pounded the rock for much of the game, the Bears saw long connections between two juniors who recently committed to Division I programs.
Quarterback Luke McAllister threw a pair of long touchdowns to Kaden Dudley, a 34-yarder to kick off scoring in the first quarter and a 35-yarder early in the fourth. Just this week McAllister committed to Colorado State and Dudley is headed to the University of Colorado.
“We have a lot of confidence in what our offense is capable of,” Pulford said. “We had some explosive plays from Luke to Kaden, and when we can put our offensive line in position to open things up for Raef and balance the attack a little bit that’s the best thing you can ask for.”
Saturday will mark the third straight year the Bears will play in the state semifinals — with the past two seasons bringing home the ultimate prize. But Pulford said the feeling is a little bit different every year.
“The most important thing, though, is that we came out of today is that we’re on top and we have seven more days with these guys,” Pulford said. “This time of the year that’s all you can ask for.”