Panthers pounce on late opportunities as Moffat County football falls to Delta
A night that couldn’t have started any better for Moffat County High School football turned into a fourth-quarter fallout when the Bulldogs hosted Delta Friday night.
MCHS fell 34-20 to the Panthers in a home game the Dogs led most of the evening until Delta strung together play after play in the final 12 minutes to devastate the MoCo defense while giving almost nothing up to the Bulldog offense.
Pink socks, gloves, headbands and other gear could be glimpsed all over the field as part of MCHS’s Pink Game, as well as in the sky. A balloon release leading up to kickoff as part of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month honored survivors and brought in more than $200 for Moffat County Cancer Society.
At the 50-yard line, Craig Middle School’s JP Price performed the coin toss for the evening, with Delta taking the opening kick.
The first Bulldog drive didn’t move too far along, but after the MoCo punt, Panthers swiftly pushed along to the end zone only to be upended by an interception from Connor Etzler that almost turned into a full 100-yard pick-six as he sprinted back in the opposite direction.
The turnover amounted to 95 yards, and Josh Teeter gained the first touchdown of the night on a five-yard rush on the shovel pass from Colby Beaver, though Beaver’s pass for the two-point conversion hit the sod to make it 6-0.
Cale Scranton kicked off to follow, a high arc looking foreboding for the Bulldogs — until Delta bobbled the catch to make it a fair ball, which Moffat immediately recovered.
The Bulldogs capitalized from there as Etzler went into triple digits on his total yards for the night with an 11-yard TD catch, but the extra point was no good to make it 12-0 late in the first quarter.
A fumble by Delta to start their drive again gave it to the Dogs seconds later, and MoCo found themselves in the Panther red zone to start the second period.
Beaver whipped a quick six-yard pass to Scranton, which the Panthers popped up only for Kameron Baker to grab the rebound for the score. Beaver connected with Scranton for two points to follow to lead 20-0.
With next to no luck in the air early in the game apart from a pass interference call against MoCo’s Victor Silva, Delta stuck to the ground as Cody Sauve’s end run around the MoCo defensive line nearly got the Panthers their first touchdown, out of bounds two yards from the goal line. Hunter Hughes dove in from there to switch the goose egg to a 6, which became a 7 with a good PAT.
Delta threatened to get on the move again late in the half with an interception of their own, but with an interference call that placed them at their own 6-yard line, the Panthers let the clock run out to head back to the locker room as the MCHS and CMS cheerleaders took over the field with the kids of the Junior Bulldog Fall Cheer Clinic for a loud and proud halftime routine.
While the Bulldog coverage was working overtime in the first half, the Panthers’ passing game started clicking promptly in the third quarter as Skyler Kraai grabbed throws from Nolan Bynum repeatedly to get Delta in scoring position. Hughes again completed the drive from a nine-yard catch.
With their lead cut in half, Bulldogs were on alert as the Panthers started controlling the pace, getting a sack of Beaver deep in MoCo territory that forced the Moffat punt, after which the Delta drive came to a halt when Etzler gained a second pick for the night.
The two opponents traded punts from there, with Delta earning an unsportsmanlike conduct call from the sidelines and later giving the Dogs’ a freebie first down when Silva was hit late while punting.
While MoCo still held the 20-14 advantage heading into the final period, Panthers took the lead for the first time when another interference call moved them into the red zone, with Sauve scoring on an eight-yard rush. Delta split the uprights to move to 21-20.
A crucial catch by Dario Alexander made it 3rd and 1, with Beaver going for the quarterback sneak on 4th and inches only to be denied as the Panthers took over possession despite furious protests by the MCHS coaches.
Even with calls not going their way, coach Jamie Nelson said it wasn’t an excuse for players not to keep on top of the action.
“We can’t rely on officials to win games for us,” he said.
Hughes reeled in an eight-yard catch to put Delta ahead at 27-20 as an aggravated Bulldog D blocked the extra point.
The MoCo offense got no farther than the 30, and a 10-yard punt by Silva didn’t help. But, the 40-yard counter by Sauve on the next play to score was the final straw as Panthers had all but guaranteed a victory.
“It’s such a momentum thing,” Nelson said. “In the first half, everything’s clicking and flowing right, and you could tell their quarterback was second-guessing himself. Then all of a sudden, he starts making a couple key passes. They came out, started creating their own momentum, and we couldn’t break it.”
Nelson added that players who were in the game responded well to the pressure of myriad position changes, most notably on special teams, as several Bulldogs were benched due to discipline issues.
“Some team rules were broken, and life’s about choices. You’ve gotta make the right ones all the time. It’s not a sometime deal,” he said.
Beaver was 14 for 30 in passing with 101 total yards, as well as running for 30 yards. Teeter led in rushing numbers with 48.
Kameron Baker was Beaver’s top target with 29 yards on three catches. Scranton caught for 22 yards, as well as throwing one for three with 12 passing yards and one interception.
In total yardage, Etzler’s TD catch and two picks amounted to 114 for the night.
On the other side of the ball, Silva led with eight tackles, all solo, while Joe Campagna had seven while Teeter and Jared Baker each had six.
Jared Baker also notched his seventh sack of the season with a monster hit of Bynum that lost the Panthers 12 yards.
As the group gathered for the post-game discussion, the Bulldog team captain didn’t spare any feelings in telling teammates that the loss came from a collective inability to respond when the odds were stacked against them.
“You have to make an imprint on these guys,” Jared said. “You have to ask them if they’re going to make the most of it. I know I’m going to. That’s what football is all about — giving 100 percent all the time. Play all four quarters.”
One last game
At 3-5 overall and 1-3 in the 2A Western Slope League, MCHS is effectively out of the postseason race, while the Panthers — 5-3, 2-2 — remain playoff hopefuls, still high in the RPI rankings.
Delta won’t be vying for the conference championship, though the league crown isn’t a certainty by any means. Basalt’s dominating season saw its biggest hurdle Friday as the Longhorns faced off with Rifle.
The Bears’ last-minute loss the week before must have motivated them all the more to beat up their biggest competition, ending the evening with a 35-14 victory over Basalt, both teams now 7-1 and 3-1.
The Longhorns will look to recover against the rival Aspen Skiers — 6-2, 3-1 — in their final regular season game. The Skiers coasted to a 37-13 win over Coal Ridge, and another W for Aspen would guarantee them the WSL laurels thanks to their 20-19 defeat of Rifle.
Meanwhile, the Bears’ first year in 2A ball also looks to be leading to the playoffs, and the Bulldogs will host Rifle for their final game Oct. 26.
“Rifle’s a very good team, and that’s what I’ve told them — ‘you’ve gotta come out and play four full quarters of football, and we’ll see how we do,'” Nelson said.
The game will be Senior Night, celebrating the upperclassmen in their last outing on the Bulldog Proving Grounds.
“It’s going to be all about the seniors, everybody’s going to bust their butts for them,” Nelson said.
Jared said he expects the Rifle match to be a tough one but also one he’ll enjoy alongside his fellow seniors, including co-captain Teeter.
“Me and Josh have put in a lot of work, and we really want to make this a close game,” he said.