After receiving the handoff from senior quarterback Mitch Whiteside, Zach Decker (22) heads for a hole created by lineman Josh Lindsey (59) and halfback Easton Byers (25). With the help of Decker’s 83 yards on the ground, the Panthers pulled a mild upset over one of the state’s premier teams, Palisade, in a 26-21 3A WSL contest at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction.Depending on where you get your information from, last Friday's 26-21 victory over longtime 3A powerhouse Palisade was either a fluke or a well-orchestrated effort by the Delta Panthers. In either case, what Delta managed to accomplish on the field at Stocker Stadium in Grand Junction was a joyous occasion for multitudes of Panther fans.
Delta may not appear to have been the dominant team if stats are compared, but the fact that Delta was leading 20-7 at halftime and 26-7 early in the third quarter speaks volumes.
Senior quarterback Mitch Whiteside had a big night for the Panthers as he ran for two touchdowns and threw for another. Whiteside had just 38 yards rushing to his credit, but he scored on runs of one and 12 yards.
A one-yard plunge by Zach Decker gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead (after Alex Quintero's extra point kick) at the 6:46 mark of the first quarter. The scoring drive covered 64 yards in five plays. Senior wide receiver Chris Black helped set up the scoring drive with a pass to Ryan Whiteside that was good for 44 yards to the Palisade 22 yard line.
Photo by Wayne Crick Josh Lindsey (59) makes a tackle that could have given Palisade’s Luke McLean (25) a chance to make first-down yardage. The Panthers’ Dylan Brittain (75), Kyle Collins (54), and Zach Decker (22) look on as Lindsey finishes the play.Palisade's second possession of the game ended in the first of four turnovers on downs in the game for the Bulldogs. It was the second turnover for Palisade after its first possession resulted in a lost fumble at its own 34.
Delta's third possession got help with a pass interference that put the ball at Delta's 44. After a five-yard procedure penalty, Mitch Whiteside hit his brother Ryan for two straight passes of three and 45 yards to place the ball at Palisade's one-yard line. Two plays later, Mitch Whiteside bulled in for the score with 1:30 left in the first period. Quintero booted the extra point, giving Delta a 14-0 lead. Black had his second completion in the game early in this drive. His pass was good for 12 yards to Mitch Whiteside.
Palisade began its next drive from the Bulldog's 39 and had the ball resting on Delta's 47 as time ran out in the first quarter.
A 33-yard run by Dalton Hannigan set up the Bulldog's first score by Hannigan from two yards out. Spencer Jackson's kick made the score 14-7 with 9:24 left to play in the first half.
The Bulldogs had a 12-play drive stall on a fourth and 26 pass play that was good for only eight yards.
Delta took over on its own 30 and had the ball at the 42 when Whiteside found Black down the right sideline for a 58-yard bomb and a score. With 1.6 left in the half, Quintero's kick failed, to leave Delta ahead 20-7 at halftime.
Palisade had the ball to begin second-half play. A holding penalty at the 24 put the ball on the Bulldog's 14-yard line. Not wanting to possibly turn the ball over deep in its own territory, Palisade quick-kicked the ball on third down to Delta's 44.
With the help of a roughing the passer penalty, Delta kept its next drive alive and eventually scored on a Mitch Whiteside 15-yard scamper down the left sideline. After the failed PAT, Delta owned a 26-7 lead over the Bulldogs with 7:18 left in the third period.
Delta's defense was stellar once again as the Bulldogs were facing fourth and five from the Delta 11. An incomplete pass produced Palisade's third loss on downs of the game.
A run by Decker for 16 yards had the Panthers sitting on their own 28 with a first down as the third quarter ended.
Delta punted the ball away four plays into the final stanza.
Palisade took over on its own 45. On the first play, Austin Terry took the handoff and found himself in big trouble as Panthers' defensive end Dylan Brittain forced Terry deep into the backfield where he was tackled for a loss of 11 yards.
Two plays later, Brittain made another big play on Hannigan with a stop at the line of scrimmage. The Bulldogs went almost exclusively to the air the rest of the way with nine passes. Luke McLean found Caden Woods in the end zone for a seven-yard TD toss with 5:47 left in the game. Jackson's PAT was good, leaving Delta ahead 26-14. The scoring drive took 11 plays and covered 55 yards.
The Bulldogs, with no secret to what they were about to do, completed a successful on-side kick with a recovery at the Delta 49.
Once again, the Delta defense bent but did not break. Palisade moved the ball to the Panthers' 20 before losing the ball on downs for the fourth time in the game. Delta was unable to move the ball on its next possession and punted the ball away. The Bulldogs began their next drive at the Delta 37 following a 20-yard punt.
McLean started the drive with 13 yards on the ground and then hit Woods for 15 yards to the Delta nine. From there, McLean tossed a nine-yard strike to Tass Crow for the score. Jackson's kick pulled the Bulldogs to within five at 26-21 with nearly three minutes left in the game.
The Panthers recovered Palisade's on-side-kick attempt at their own 47. Decker carried the ball six straight times as Delta tried to keep the clock running. The Bulldogs used two time outs and eventually got the ball back at their own 36 when the Panthers lost the ball on downs.
With 36 seconds left in the game, McLean's pass over the middle was dropped on first down. His second throw, a long pass down the right sideline, was intercepted by the Panthers' Saul Sanchez.
Statistically, the game was close in total yards with Delta collecting 334 total yards to Palisade's 304. Mitch Whiteside was seven-for-nine with 148 yards and one touchdown while Black completed both of his passes for 57 yards.
Decker led the Panthers' rushing game with 83 yards on 23 carries while Black and Ryan Whiteside had four catches each for 87 and 99 yards respectively.
Palisade's Hannigan had 102 yards on 19 carries and McLean was 13 of 24 in the passing department (mostly in the fourth quarter) for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
Delta (5-1 and 6-2) controls its own destiny in 3A post-season play. A win against Rifle this Friday would assure the Panthers of a playoff berth. Delta is at home with the Bears this week and ends regular season play in Steamboat Springs (2-5 and 3-5) on Nov. 2.
Rifle (6-0 and 8-0 overall), the 3A league-leading (and number one team in the state), faces the 3A WSL number two team Eagle Valley (5-1 and 7-1) on Nov. 2 to finish its regular season schedule.
Palisade (4-2 and 6-2) slipped to fourth place after last week's loss and has Eagle Valley this Friday and number six Moffat County (2-4 and 4-4) left on its schedule.
Glenwood Springs is 3-3 in league play and 3-5 overall and will have Cortez (1-6 and 1-7) and Battle Mountain (0-6 and 0-8) left on its schedule.
At last glance, Delta was listed in the fifteenth position in the race for a 16-team playoff field. That rating most likely will (or at least should) change with the results of the past weekend's play. Ahead of the Panthers are WSL foes Palisade (4th), Eagle Valley (6th), and Glenwood Springs (12th).