MONUMENT – After losing to Loveland in the 2022 Class 4A semifinals, Palmer Ridge quarterback Derek Hester admits that he needed a bit a of a wake-up call. Hester, after all, is a good quarterback and can compete at a high level.

But on that day back in November, he wasn’t good enough. So he got to work.

When the Bears went into halftime of their Week 1 showdown with Montrose trailing by 12 points, it was an all-too-familiar feeling for Hester. This time was the team that needed a wake-up call, and as a team they answered.

The defense came up with a couple of crucial stops and edged out the Red Hawks 28-27 in perhaps the toughest game the Bears will play all season.

And it’s still just Week 1.

“I really had a big wake-up call [over the summer] and I’ve really turned my life around,” Hester said. I think it’s for the best. “I got the team captain spot, voted by guys and I really appreciate that from them.”

After watching the Red Hawks (0-1 overall) erase nearly half of the first quarter on the first drive, a drive that ended with a touchdown run by Elijah Womack, Hester marched the Bears (1-0) right down the field and capped their drive with a touchdown run of his own. It was the first of three rushing touchdowns on the night for the quarterback, each one coming at a more crucial moment than the last.

(Dan Mohrmann/

Alonzo Trujillo found the end zone twice in the second quarter for the Red Hawks which helped build that 19-7 lead. New Palmer Ridge coach Zach Carlton might be the new shot caller, but he relied on patience and faith in his team to get out in the second half and turn things around.

“It was just more getting our eyes right at the end of the day,” Carlton said. “And then a couple of aiming point issues that we had to adjust.”

Vision is key when trying to slow the Red Hawks on offense. Misdirection is a key component of the running game and when the Bears weren’t making the right reads, it showed. Palmer Ridge took a 21-19 lead on Hester’s third rushing touchdown of the game, but Montrose went right back to what was working and it was Austin Zimmer breaking through the line to find the end zone and take the lead right back.

But Hester had an answer. He wasted no time getting the Bears into scoring position and Avier Elvira helped out with some long runs to get them into the red zone. Then a strike to Jimmer Weir put the Bears up for good.

Montrose had two chances to score again, but fumbled on fourth down on the first drive and a Gage Wareham keeper was stopped short on the second drive. It was a quality football game, but at times each team definitely looked like they were taking the field for the first time this season.

“We have to get better and we have to eliminate mistakes,” Montrose coach Brett Mertens said. “With our style of football, we can’t overcome stupid penalties and fumbles.”

There will be plenty of time for the kinks to get worked out. Palmer Ridge and Montrose are both good football teams and they’ll likely only get better as the season goes on.