This year's 3A state football championships have been a good year for the underdog. Four of the top 16 teams fell to lesser ranked teams on opening day this past week. Among the winners, as an underdog, Delta's Panthers (number 13) made the most of their appearance in this year's 3A state football championships with a 21-0 win over number four, The Classical Academy, in Colorado Springs.
In 1960 Delta competed in the Class 2A state championships and defeated Cañon City 12-7 to win the title. In 1961, the Panthers were the 2A runnerups after losing to Lamar, 40-14.
This year's squad has made the first step in returning to a possible title run. That road will not be an easy one as the Panthers just happen to be on the same side of the bracket that number one Rifle is on. The Bears roared to another shutout win against number 16 Erie by a 42-0 margin in their opening round game on Saturday.
Delta and Rifle could be on a collision course if this next weekend produces wins for the two clubs. Rifle plays number eight Roosevelt (a 21-15 winner over number nine Palisade) while the Panthers will prepare the Panther Den for a visit from the Pueblo East's Eagles this Saturday afternoon. Delta (8-3) drew the home field after being on the road to Colorado Springs last week and Pueblo East was relegated to the road trip after hosting its win over number 12 Holy Family, 49-28.
Other top-ranked teams to lose in the first round included number two Discovery Canyon which lost to number 15 Pueblo Central, 24-14. Number three Frederick (8-2) found itself on the losing end of a 33-8 decision at the hands of 3A WSL Eagle Valley (number 14, 7-3). The fourth top 10 team to lose was number seven Elizabeth (7-3) which fell to 10th seed Silver Creek (8-2).
For the Panthers, Saturday's game was played in cold and blustery conditions with occasional snow flurries.
After a pair of possessions, Delta earned the game's first big advantage when Saul Sanchez intercepted Austin Bervig's third pass of the day. The next Delta possession began on the Delta 42-yard line and resulted in a Zach Decker 42-yard run down the left sideline.
The Panthers overcame a 10-yard holding penalty and Mitch Whiteside found his brother Ryan for 22 yards on a pass play to help set up the Decker run. Delta's drive covered 58 yards in five plays. The PAT kick by Alex Quintero gave Delta a 7-0 lead with 3:44 left in the first period.
A fourth possession for the Panthers in the first period spilled into the second quarter. After starting on their own 42, the Panthers used the running of Decker to move the ball to the Titan's 18-yard line. A holding penalty on the Titans moved the ball to the nine. The Classical Academy's defense applied pressure on a second and goal and Whiteside threw an interception to Jimmy Demkowicz to give the Titans possession at their own 10-yard line.
A great defensive play from Kyle Collins caught the Titan's Andrew Register for a one-yard loss back to the nine. In two more plays, the Titans were forced to punt. The Panthers could not generate a sustained offensive effort and had to punt the ball back to The Classical Academy where they began their next series at the Delta 49.
The Classical Academy got 26 yards on a quarterback keeper and eventually moved the ball to the Panther's nine before stalling out. A 27-yard field goal attempt was wide left to leave Delta ahead 7-0.
Delta's next possession started on its own 20. A pass interference against the Titans kept a Delta drive alive and placed the ball at the Titan's 49. Robert Williams carried the ball two times to set the ball at the 47. From there, Whiteside called Chris Black's number and hit him on a slant pattern for a 47-yard touchdown. The drive took eight plays and covered 80 yards. With Quintero's extra-point kick, the Panthers owned a 14-0 lead with 6.5 left in the opening half.
The Classical Academy got the ball first in the second half and started from its own 20-yard line after Quintero sailed the ball through the end zone on the second half kickoff.
The Titans were moving the ball but lost it on a fumble at the 44. Alfredo Rosales gave the Panthers good field position with the fumble recovery.
Delta used 10 plays to move 44 yards to take a 21-0 lead on Robert Williams' three-yard plunge at the 5:13 mark of thethird period. Quintero's kick made the final score 21-0.
The Titans had two scoring opportunities in the fourth quarter, lost one on a pass interception by Delta's Tyler Sandoval and the other after losing the ball on downs late in the quarter.
Unofficially, Delta had 99 yards through the air on six of 15 passing and 185 yards on the ground on 45 rushes. The Classical Academy finished with 105 yards on the ground and another 59 through the air for 164 total yards.
Bervig was the leading rusher for The Classical Academy.
For the Panthers, Decker had a good day toting the ball for 151 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown. Black hauled in three Whiteside aerials for 62 yards to lead the receiving corps.
Even though the victory seemed easy, Delta head coach Ben Johnson certainly hadn't expected it to be so. "I didn't expect it (win) to be easy. They are a good team. We just are playing good defense right now. Offensively, we ran the ball well at times. The wind played havoc with our passing game at times too."
Delta will host its second-round 3A playoff game beginning this Saturday with a 1 p.m. kickoff.
The Eagles throw for 205 yards a game and average 189 yards on the ground while putting up 39 points a game. Defensively, Pueblo East averages 61 tackles per game, has 13 interceptions on the year and recovered 15 fumbles.
Delta is active offensively as well with 155 yards per game coming through the air and another 196 on the ground. The Panthers are scoring at a 24 points per game clip. Delta has thrown the ball 190 times and completed 102 passes for 1705 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Panther running corps has carried the ball 385 times for 2162 yards and 22 touchdowns.