Delta's Panthers will have to settle for being one of the top four teams in Class 2A football in Colorado after falling, 21-14, to No. 6 Kent Denver last Saturday. The semifinal round game was played in Denver on a bright, sunny day on a field surrounded with snow.
No. 10 Delta stumbled on its first possession and punted the ball away after three plays.
Kent Denver's Sun Devils put the ball in play for its first possession on its own 7-yard line. A 47-yard gallop by senior Spencer Serumaga moved the ball into Delta territory at the 47. Six plays later, from the 33, Joe Licht tossed a 33-yard scoring pass to senior Max Waldbaum for the game's first score. Junior Quinn Voboril booted the extra point and closed the books on a 93-yard drive that took eight plays.
The Panthers' (8-4) next possession began on Delta's 25-yard line. Without the services of its top pass receiver, Beau Byers, who was injured on Kent Denver's scoring play, Delta marched the ball down field using 10 running plays and one pass.
Senior Damon Jensen had 29 of his team high 86 yards on four rushes in the drive. Senior quarterback Kole Roberts accounted for 18 yards and Tristan Brown another 12 yards. Senior A.B. Ontiveros caught a Roberts pass for 17 yards to account for all 75 yards of the drive.
The final two yards of the drive came on a read-option play where Roberts faked a handoff to Brown up the middle and then scooted around the right end to the end zone with 25.7 seconds left in the period. Ontiveros kicked the extra point to tie the game at 7-7.
Kent Denver's next drive began at the end of the first quarter. The drive, beginning at the Sun Devils' own 20-yard line, continued in the second quarter.
A running play for two yards set the ball at Kent Denver's 26. From there, Charles McKissick found some running room and romped for 74 yards and a touchdown. Voboril's kick made the score 14-7 with 11:13 remaining in the second quarter of play.
The Panthers were moving the ball after receiving the ensuing kickoff and reached the 12-yard line of Kent Denver on a 25-yard pass from Roberts to Ontiveros. Two plays later Kent Denver's Josh McDonald intercepted a Roberts pass to set up the Sun Devil's next possession at their own 15.
On a fourth and short Kent Denver went for the first down and did not make it. Delta took over on the Sun Devil's 39.
The Panthers, with the help of an 11-yard pass to Jensen and an 11-yard run by Brown, drove the ball to Kent Denver's 10-yard line. A stout defense turned the Panthers away on four straight running plays to take over on downs at Kent Denver's 1-yard line.
A 37-yard pass from Licht to Dylan Wells ended the first half with Kent Denver leading 14-7.
The second half began with Kent Denver running the ball three times and then punting the ball away.
Delta's first possession wasn't much better. A 10-yard loss backed the ball up to the Panthers' 21. An incompletion was followed by Roberts' second interception of the game. McKissick's pick set the Sun Devils up at Delta's 11-yard line.
Waldbaum collected his second touchdown of the game on a short slant pass that covered nine yards to the end zone. Voboril's kick made it 21-7 with 7:06 left in the third quarter.
Both Delta and Kent Denver had two possessions before the third quarter ended. Neither team could get past their opponents 50-yard line.
On Delta's first possession of the fourth quarter the Panthers used the running of Jensen and a 17-yard pass to Ontiveros, to eventually reach Kent Denver's 9-yard line. The drive stalled and an incomplete pass ended Delta's scoring opportunity with a loss on downs.
The Sun Devils had to punt the ball back to Delta after six plays of its next possession. A great return had the Panthers offense beginning at its own 40.
A 32-yard screen pass to Tristan Brown was good for 32 yards to the Sun Devils' 28-yard line. Byers, who had missed most of the first quarter and all of the second, finally had his number called on a second and 10 play. Roberts rolled to his right and laid the ball out to a diving Byers, who came down with it in the end zone with 1:34 left in the game. Ontiveros' kick gave Delta hope with the score 21-14.
An onside kick failed for the Panthers and Kent Denver used the Victory Formation to run down the game clock for a 21-14 semifinal victory.
Unofficially, Brown finished with 55 yards on 12 carries for the Panthers. Roberts, even though he scored the Panthers' only rushing touchdown, finished the game with a negative 11 yards on eight carries.
Ontiveros' 59 yards on three catches led Delta's air game. Jensen had two catches for 16 yards and Cameron Schaal picked up 11 yards on one catch. Brown caught one pass for 32 yards.
Charles McKissick paced Kent Denver's running game with 146 yards on 13 carries and Max Waldbaum was the Sun Devil's leading pass receiver with four catches and 63 yards and two touchdowns.
Delta had a balanced attack but may have suffered with the loss of Byers early in the game. Byers usual contributions this season included an average catch of 15.2 yards per game and 63 or more yards a game.
A conversation with Delta coach Ben Johnson revealed insight as to just how much of an impact Byers might have had in the game. "We planned on using a lot of doubles in our game plan. Beau might have had upwards of 10 or 11 catches in the game. He made a great catch for the last touchdown.
"Defensively, there wasn't that big of a hit with Byers' absence on defense. Colton Galvan played well there."
Johnson also noted the progression of the Panthers' football program the last four years. "There's only three programs in the state that have been to three final four games in the past four years, Delta, Paonia and Valor Christian."
A talk with Byers also revealed disappointment. "I was disappointed, but the loss was within itself the most disappointing. I wasn't satisfied with how things turned out, but we played as hard as we could and that's all we could do."
The win for No. 6 Kent Denver (11-1) sends the Sun Devils to the Class 2A Championships against No. 1 La Junta (12-0), a 14-13 winner over No. 5 Bayfield (9-3).