Cam Tucker grew up causing Durango football players fits when he was a kid in Bayfield. The senior at Palisade High School, who moved to Palisade before high school, did it one more time Friday in his final showdown with the Demons.
Tucker, the do-it-all star of Class 3A’s second-ranked Palisade Bulldogs, churned his legs through the No. 10 Durango Demons on Friday night at DHS Stadium. In a game tied at 18-18 in the fourth quarter, he mounted a 88-yard touchdown drive that proved to be the game winner. Only Tucker wouldn’t finish the drive. After he ripped off a 31-yard run, he was the victim of a horse collar tackle that saved a touchdown. His backup, junior Gabe Harrison, checked into the game and delivered with a 7-yard TD run that gave the Palisade Bulldogs a huge 25-18 road win to open their season.
“He got ’er done,” Palisade head coach Joe Ramunno said of Tucker. “He’s a hell of a player, and I’m a little worried right now. I don’t know how bad the injury is, so we’ll see. You lose a kid like that, and it’s detrimental to the team. Our guys rallied a bit there at the end and got it done, but (Tucker) had got us in great position.”
Durango fell to 1-1 with the loss and fell to Palisade for the second consecutive season.
“It’s fun being in a game like that. The crowd was crazy and energized, and it’s fun being in a nail-biter,” DHS junior quarterback Jordan Woolverton said. “Obviously, it didn’t come out as we wanted it to, but our team played their hearts out. We didn’t play to our full extent. We had some turnovers and mistakes in a couple of places that could have won us the game, but, overall, the team put it all out there.”
Tucker rushed for 186 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. As a team, the Bulldogs rushed for 359 yards. Tucker also went 5-of-9 passing for 47 yards. Durango running back Everett Howland galloped for 155 yards on eight carries in the first half. He finished with 188 yards on 15 carries, as Palisade made adjustments in the second half. To defend the run-pass option of Durango with the threat of the deep ball, the Bulldogs played their cornerbacks and safeties deep off the ball to take away any deep passes.
“It was frustrating,” Woolverton said. “But we knew it was going to be like that. Our motto this game was, ‘Take what you can get.’ We weren’t going to be able to get over the top of the safeties and corners when they were playing that deep. We had to drive it down the field one play at a time, and we did that pretty efficiently.”
After Palisade’s go-ahead score, Durango was set up nicely on its own 43-yard line after a good Gage Mestas kickoff return. The Demons looked to have converted a big third-and-10 on a pass from Woolverton to Mestas, but a holding penalty negated the play, and DHS would turn the ball over on downs. The defense couldn’t get another stop, and the Bulldogs held on to win. Woolverton finished the game 11-of-19 passing for 129 yards and two TDs.
Durango fought hard to tie the game with 7 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The Demons led 11-10 at halftime, but Palisade scored on the opening drive of the third quarter on a 13-play, 80-yard drive. Tucker converted once on fourth down and then ran in a 2-yard TD, his second of the game. He then pitched to running back Jaden Spears for a 2-point conversion that gave the Bulldogs a 18-11 lead.
Durango answered a few drives later. The Demons stopped another long Palisade drive when Jordan Stanley forced a fumble that was recovered by Breyton Jackson on the Palisade 38. Penalties looked to stall the drive, but Woolverton connected with Mestas on a 25-yard TD pass in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-5. Mestas hauled in the pass, tapped one toe in bounds for the score. The extra point was good, and the game was tied at 18-18.
“I had a ton of trust in Gage to make that play,” Woolverton said. “He’s special.”
Tucker watched his team’s defense make its final stand from the trainer’s table, and he watched as his offense picked up two first downs to end the game.
“We talked about focus and just making the big plays when we needed to,” DHS head coach David Vogt said. “Palisade made more plays than us at the end.
“(Tucker) is amazing. He’s that good for a reason, and he can carry a team, and he did tonight.”
Each team committed a crucial fumble in the first half that the other turned into points. Woolverton’s fumble on a promising opening drive gave Palisade the ball on its own 48, as Corbin Hill fell on the loose ball after Woolverton was sacked. The Bulldogs then marched 52 yards in 10 plays and scored on a 13-yard Tucker run on an option off the left tackle.
The Demons answered right back with a three-play, 80-yard TD drive. Howland burst through the Bulldog defense for a 51-yard gain. Woolverton ran for 13 yards and then hit Ben Finneseth on a 16-yard TD pass. The difference in the first half would be Woolverton’s 2-point conversion score, as he rolled right on a bootleg and dove over a tackler to give the Demons an 8-7 lead with 4:59 to go in the first quarter.
Palisade would mount another big drive of 11 plays, but it ended in a fumble when Tucker and a running back were on the wrong page on an option and the ball came out. It was recovered by Alex Finneseth on the Demons’ own 14.
Howland and Nate Messier ripped off big runs to end the first quarter. When the teams switched ends of the field, the Durnago drive stalled, though. A perfect Woolverton pass was dropped in the end zone on third-and-3, and the Demons had to settle for a 27-yard field goal off the right foot of Caleb McGrath to take an 11-7 lead with 8:07 to go in the first half.
The teams would then exchange turnovers on downs despite promising drives. Palisade got the ball back on its own 19 with time to work before halftime. The Bulldogs turned that into a 47-yard field goal from Ben Sargent, as the kick barely sailed over the crossbar to cut the Durango lead to 11-10 going into the locker room.
There was only one punt in the game, a Woolverton rugby-style kick that pinned Palisade inside its own 1-yard line late in the third quarter.
Palisade ran 65 plays in the game with 56 rushes. Durango ran only 43 plays, as the Bulldogs chewed up time of possession.
“We had to control the clock because we were trying to figure out how to stop (Durango),” Ramunno said. “We were having a real difficult time stopping them. Our offense was kind of our adjustment for the defense.”
Durango will have to regroup in a hurry for the first of a four-game road trip to see rival and Class 4A third-ranked Montrose. Palisade will host Green Mountain next week with a big question around Tucker’s health.
“I told the guys life is about learning lessons. We gotta take a lesson from this one,” Vogt said. “Coaches gotta do a better job, kids gotta do a better job, and it’s just about focus.”