On the road and facing a 3-0 team, the No. 2 Palmer Ridge Bears, the No. 6 Montrose Indians were going to be challenged, something the team knew was the case coming into the season.
But the Indians struck early, scoring twice on Austin Griffin rushing scores to take a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
Eli Evans intercepted Palmer Ridge quarterback and D1 recruit Luke McAllister to set up the second of Griffin’s touchdowns, and the Indians came up with a massive fourth down stop on a fourth-and-one play at the Montrose 1.
The Bears scored before the half, but the Indians made it clear they had come to play following the nearly five hour drive.
The third quarter is when everything changed. Palmer Ridge got aggressive, recovered two straight onside kicks and scored both times to start the half, never looking back en route to scoring 35 unanswered points in the 42-20 victory.
“I thought we played a pretty good first half, first quarter especially,” Montrose coach Brett Mertens said. “... we kind of lost the momentum in the second half. They made some big plays and once they got the momentum, it was tough for us to bounce back. It was a bad third quarter.”
Montrose was without starting quarterback Keagan Goodwin, who was deemed out Friday morning following a late Thursday injury. Bridger Kurtz, the junior backup QB, took Friday’s snaps, his first taste of varsity action.
“He did a nice nob, all things considered,” Mertens said. “Zero practice all week, no varsity snaps. I was pretty proud of him.”
Following the two straight onside recoveries, in their next series, Bears backup quarterback Jimmy Thomas came in relief of McAllister following a rough hit and threw a 97-yard touchdown pass.
The Indians, unable to find any room from their offensive sets, had trouble stopping McAllister and the run game. Gator Robinson scored from 15-yards for the Bears to make it a 35-14 game.
“That’s a tough blow to overcome,” Mertens said of the onside recoveries. “That was a big blow and gave them a lot of momentum. Once they get momentum they’re an explosive team.”
“We’re just not designed to come from behind,” Mertens later added, “so once we get down like that it’s tough.”
Indians freshman Blake Griffin scored from 46-yards out to creep back into the game and make it 35-20 in the third, but McAllister found Cam Jones for a 20-yard touchdown pass in the fourth to put it away.
McAllister, a Colorado State University commit, threw a pair of interceptions against the Montrose secondary but threw for three touchdown passes.
“He’s got a lot of talent,” Mertens said of McAllister. “Lot of arm talent, he’s a big kid, reads the field well, he’s experienced — as good as it gets as far as high school quarterbacks go.”
Losing Goodwin, who threw for 151 yards and three touchdown passes last week, forced the Indians to play without one of their top playmakers.
“He’s our leader, he’s our captain. It’s definitely tough when you lose him,” Mertens said. “He’ll be alright, hopefully he’ll be back. It was definitely a tough blow to lose him on gameday.”
The Indians moved to 3-1 and 2-1 in conference play. Montrose is on the road next week and will play another high quality opponent in Ponderosa (3-0 coming into their game on Saturday).
“You can’t ask for more from our kids,” Mertens said. “They played as hard as they could for 48 minutes and they did what we asked them to do, it just wasn’t enough … we’re still lucky to play the game and it was a fun game. Can’t take it away and our kids played great — it was a good challenge for us.”
• McAllister came into Friday’s game having thrown 13 touchdowns and two interceptions through three games. The Indians were able to double the standout’s interception total, but McAllister showed why Palmer Ridge is a pass-first team.
• The Griffin brothers once again scored in the same game, combining for three Friday, following last week’s win where the pair combined for two scores. They are the second pair of siblings to play together in a varsity game this season for Montrose (Cora and Andie Blowers played varsity softball this season).
• The Indians, despite moving to 3-0 after a blowout victory last week, weren’t able to move much in the CHSAA rankings, and fell to 10th in the RPI standings following the loss on Friday. It’s why quality wins against top opponents are so crucial. Montrose will look to get one against Ponderosa on Friday.
Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press