Playoff football in November always brings out the nerves.
However, Dakota Ridge senior quarterback Blake Palladino turned those jitters into a four-touchdown performance Friday night at Jeffco Stadium as the No. 7-seeded Eagles defeated No. 10 Thomas Jefferson 52-28.
“He (Palladino) was really nervous. I haven’t really seen him get nervous. He was wound-up all day,” Woitalewicz said of his quarterback. “I kept telling him to calm down. Take a deep breath and relax.”
Palladino had a pair of rushing touchdowns (four and nine yards), along with first-half touchdown passes to senior Walker Moench and sophomore Landon Kalsbeck.
“I just trust my team and I know everyone has everyone’s back,” Palladino said. “Everything will work out.”
Dakota Ridge jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead early in the second quarter. Junior Jack Seidel kicked a 24-yard field goal to cap off the opening drive for the Eagles.
Palladino finished another scoring drive with a four-yard touchdown run with 27 seconds left in the first quarter to push the lead to 10-0. Palladino went to the air for the Eagles’ next score with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Moench to make it a 17-0 lead with 10:37 left in the second quarter.
Thomas Jefferson’ defense gave the Spartans life with a pick-six. Palladino’s screen pass was intercepted by senior Xavier Allen at the Eagles’ one-yard line to give the Spartans a defensive score.
Senior quarterback Meech Haralambopoulos pulled Thomas Jefferson within 17-14 with a 27-yard touchdown pass to senior Daren Sacha with 55.2 seconds left before halftime.
However, there was enough time on the clock for Dakota Ridge to drive 80 yards in less than a minute to make it a 24-14 lead at halftime. Palladino hit Kalsbeck near the Eagles’ sideline and the sophomore did the rest dodging a tackler on the way to a 34-yard touchdown with 18 seconds left before halftime.
“We practice two-minute drills all the time. We are good on two-minute drills,” Palladino said. “We just know how to move the ball.”
TJ (10-2 record) came into the game with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. Haralambopoulos and running back Jake Tapia had combined for more than 2,600 yards on the ground for the Spartans.
“Our goal going in was to get them (TJ) behind the chains,” Woitalewicz said. “They made a couple of plays in the pass game, but that ‘s what they want to do. To get them in second and third down and long situations is what we wanted to do.”
Moench had a huge tackle on Tapia for a four-yard loss with the Spartans getting to midfield on the first drive of the second half. TJ’s drive eventually stalled and the Eagles (8-3) scored and pushed their lead to 38-14 by the end of the third quarter with touchdown runs by Palladino and Kalsbeck.
“I was just doing what my team wanted me to do,” Moench said of the big stop on Tapia. “We have been waiting all night for a big hit on him. I got the job done.”
It got a little sloppy with plenty of penalties in the second half on both sides. Senior Stephen Price had a six-yard touchdown run and Kalsbeck had his third touchdown of the night on a 55-yard run in the final minutes.
Dakota Ridge will face No. 2 Erie in the 4A quarterfinals next week. The Tigers shutout No. 15 Rampart 52-0 in another second-round game Friday night.
“You play a team like Erie who we will probably get next week and it is going to be a long day,” Woitalewicz said of the second-half penalties. “If we can convert and not have penalties we’ll be in good shape.”
Palladino doesn’t mind being the underdog next week against Erie.
“We know we are a great team,” Palladino said. “We are on a roll with five wins in a row now. We’ll try to make it six next week.”
Dennis Pleuss is the Sports Information Director for Jeffco Public Schools. For more Jeffco coverage, go to CHSAANow.com.