Blog: The Palmer Ridge defense zones in for a state-title game appearance

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Photo - Palmer Ridge tackle Jacob Dillon brings down a Palisade player during a 3A football semfinal game against Palisade on Saturday, November 25, 2017 at Don Breese Stadium. The Bears' defeated the Bulldogs 28-14 for their first-ever trip to the state championship. (Lindsey Smith, The Gazette)

Palmer Ridge tackle Jacob Dillon brings down a Palisade player during a 3A football semfinal game against Palisade on Saturday, November 25, 2017 at Don Breese Stadium. The Bears' defeated the Bulldogs 28-14 for their first-ever trip to the state championship. (Lindsey Smith, The Gazette)

We all know about the powerful Palmer Ridge offense, which averages more than 400 yards and 45 points per game.

But this postseason we also learned about the Bears' stellar defense which has allowed Palmer Ridge to outscore opponents 125-34 in the 2017 state playoffs.

In Saturday's 3A semifinal game against Palisade, Palmer Ridge allowed the most points since Week 4 of the regular season - a whopping 14 points.

But thanks to a 28-14 win over the Bulldogs, Palmer Ridge is heading to the program's first-ever state title game, it looks as though the Bears are holding all of the right cards.

"This is just a special group of guys who have bought in to what we want to get accomplished," Palmer Ridge defensive coordinator Zach Carlton said. "The explosiveness of our offense really allows us to play loose and it's nice having a lead and just being able to fly around and execute, but it's really just the kids buying in at the end of the day."

The goal each year, according to head coach Tom Pulford, is to leave the program better than the year before.

A year ago the Bears were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. But now No. 2 Palmer Ridge is undefeated at 13-0, ready to face No. 5 Erie in the state championship next week.

"We just don't want to get beat," senior defensive end Zach Hester said. "We want to stay together as long as possible so we are playing for each other on both sides of the ball, but on defense I think we have a tighter bond and that's just helping us play."

Hester said the last few weeks the defense has seen more powerful offensive schemes, which after finding success against teams like Palisade and Rifle, who work with a powerful run game, gives the defense confidence moving forward.

"We've been playing a lot of spread teams in our conference and so it's a little different facing some big powerful teams that want to run on us, and I think that just helps us grind a little bit more and helps our toughness," Hester said.

Junior JC Sparks led the defense in tackles through the regular season with 83, while Hester and Charlie Deeds had 73. And although official defensive stats have not been updated to MaxPreps throughout the postseason, Palmer Ridge remains second in Class 3A with 37.5 sacks, and 11th in tackles.

"Coach Carlton is extremely organized and he does a very good job of making sure that everyone on the defensive side of the ball knows what their role is from, coaches to players," Pulford said. "He does a great job preparing each week and all of his hard work is part of the level of success we've been able to attain so far.

"We work very hard to help our players reach their full potential and make sure that they can contribute in Weeks 13 and 14," he added. "And those guys knowing their job, and trusting each other, and flying around - it's a lot of fun to be a part of."