Delta High School has advanced to the semifinal round of the 2016 Class 2A State Football Championships. The Panthers defeated No. 2 Resurrection Christian, which came into last Saturday's game undefeated (10-0), to earn a berth in the semifinals.
The Cougars won the 2A Colorado League and had wins over Weld Central (27-6) in first round play and Platte Valley (30-20) in quarterfinal action.
Delta coach Ben Johnson knew his Panthers would have to stop the big plays and keep penalties to a minimum to have a chance against Resurrection Christian on Saturday. That was accomplished with the Panthers, unofficially, being whistled for nine infractions and a loss of 55 yards. The Cougars had five penalties and 25 yards.
Resurrection Christian had the ball first and moved from its own 20 to the 46 before turning the ball over on an interception by Beau Byers.
Each team showed it could move the ball in the early going, and each defense delivered solid play with the result being a 0-0 score after one quarter of play.
The Cougars had the ball for two plays of its fourth possession before the first quarter ended.
When play began in the second quarter, Resurrection Christian mixed running and passing plays to work its way to the end zone, culminating with a 4-yard pass from Michael Stevenson to Jesse Cross. A 2-point conversion run up the middle by Christian Sanders gave the Cougars an 8-0 lead with 7:11 left in the first quarter. The drive covered 80 yards and took 15 plays to complete.
Delta's first possession of the second quarter ended with an interception after just two plays.
The Panthers found the end zone on their second possession of the period. Senior Tristan Brown ran the ball five times in the drive and picked up 35 yards for Delta's offense.
Senior quarterback Kole Roberts' arm provided plenty of offense in the drive with a 12-yard throw to A.B. Ontiveros and a 33-yard scoring strike to senior Damon Jensen with 1:17 left before the half. Ontiveros' PAT kick brought the Panthers to within one of the Cougars, 8-7 at halftime.
The Panthers received the ball to begin the second half and set the tone for the rest of the game. Jensen took the kick at his 5-yard line and bounced and weaved his way to the left sideline where he was tripped up at the Cougars' 15.
Brown carried the ball to the four and Roberts scooted around his left end on an option-read play that covered the final four yards to the end zone. Ontiveros' kick made the score 14-8 with 11:14 remaining in the third quarter.
The Cougars went four and out on their next possession.
Delta began its next drive at the 33-yard line of Delta. Six running plays moved the ball to Resurrection Christian's 35-yard line. The next play was a perfect pass from Roberts to Byers to the left-front pylon on the goal line for six points. Ontiveros' kick hit the left upright and bounced out to leave the score at 20-8 with 6:07 left in the quarter.
Resurrection Christian mounted a drive that consumed the remainder of the third quarter (6:07). A 16-play drive ended at Delta's 14 with a loss on downs.
Delta's ground game was highlighted by a 24-yard scamper by Roberts, with Brown and Jensen having key runs to move the ball to Resurrection Christian's 20-yard line. From there Ontiveros lined up a 37-yard field goal that had enough air under it to clear the crossbar for three points and a 23-8 lead with 6:14 left in the game.
The Cougar's final possession ended when Cameron Schaal intercepted Brin Hayden's errant pass in the Panthers' end zone.
Offensive stats for the game, unofficially, showed a dominance in second half play for the Panthers.
Delta got 146 yards from Brown on 21 carries and Jensen finished with 74 yards on 12 carries.
Roberts finished with seven rushes for 60 yards. In all, Delta had 404 total yards to 230 yards for the Cougars.
When asked about his role in the Panthers' victory, Brown's grin indicated he relished the chance to hit people. "My size helps a lot and I can get low to move people."
The Panthers have rallied around each other and are proud to be together as they chase a state title in football. "We prepare to play as a team. This is a tight squad."
Jensen's thoughts on Delta's success in the second half included what the team talked about at halftime. "We weren't satisfied with the first half and we talked about what we needed to do in the second half. Our mentality was better in the second half and we played cleaner with fewer penalties."
Delta's next opponent will be Kent Denver's Sun Devils out of the Colorado League in Denver.
During regular season play the Sun Devils defeated Eagle Valley 18-8 and Faith Christian 27-12. Their only loss, coming into the state tournament, was to No. 1 La Junta, 35-6.
Kent Denver is 10-1 and owns wins over Weld Central (27-6) in the first round and The Classical Academy (27-24 in OT) in last weekend's quarter final round.
The Sun Devils rush for 222 yards a game and average 102.5 yards through the air each game.
Sophomore Joe Licht leads the Sun Devils from his quarterback position and has 1,010 of passing offense which includes 13 touchdowns and one interception.
Senior running back Spencer Serumaga leads Kent Denver with 650 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. There are seven players who weigh 200 to 290 pounds playing for the Sun Devils.
Delta is on the road for this week's semifinal contest with game time set for 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19.