Last weekend's quarterfinal round of this year's Class 3A state football championships featured play between Delta's Panthers and The Classical Academy's Titans. The contest, won by Delta, 27-14, marked the third time in two years Delta has faced TCA on the gridiron.
The Panthers defeated TCA, 27-22, in 2014 and held on for a 38-35 win on Aug. 28 to start the 2015 season.
Delta's playoff success has been noted the past three seasons, beginning with a 21-0 win over TCA in 2012. The Panthers bowed out of the playoffs in 2012 with a 35-24 loss to Pueblo East, who is this year's top-ranked 3A team.
In 2013 Delta went 2-1 in the playoffs that began with a 42-41 overtime victory over Holy Family in the first round. The Panthers knocked off league-foe Glenwood Springs, 13-9, to advance to a semifinal-round game with Silver Creek. Silver Creek ended Delta's quest for a title with a 28-17 win.
Last year's football season began in Colorado Springs against TCA with the Panthers claiming a 27-22 decision. After going 8-4, Delta defeated Conifer, 24-21, in the first round and then fell to Discovery Canyon, 47-7, to end its season.
Saturday's quarterfinal round against the Titans was competitive from start to finish.
Delta deferred to TCA after winning the coin toss and started the game on defense.
The Titans moved the ball smartly in their opening possession, beginning at their own 32 and advancing the ball to Delta's 29 before stalling out and missing a 44-yard field goal attempt by Anders Carlson. A 23-yard pass from Austin Bervig to Brayden Luft covered 23 yards and Sawyer Weeks raced 25 yards to help the Titans get to Delta's 29.
The Panthers started their first drive with Jonny Ponce contributing 3 yards on the first play. Tristan Brown took a Kole Roberts pass 8 yards and Ponce added another 2 yards. Following an incomplete pass A.B. Ontiveros swept the left side for 37 yards to get the ball deep into TCA territory. Brown bruised his way the final 2 yards for Delta's score with 2:37 remaining in the first period. An Ontiveros kick gave Delta a 7-0 lead.
TCA started its next possession on its 20-yard line and used an Austin Bervig-to-Jayce Hall pass that covered 28 yards to Delta's 24. Bervig, Jayce Hall and Jenson Hall combined runs to move the ball to Delta's 4 as the first quarter came to an end.
Weeks carried the ball to Delta's 1-yard line for a first and goal. The Panthers defense stopped the next three running plays with no gain to bring up a fourth-and-1 situation. Bervig used play-action to set up Weeks for a 1-yard toss and the score with 9:35 left in the first half. Carlson's kick tied the score at 7-7.
Delta was driving on its next possession when Ponce was stripped of the ball to set up TCAs next possession at the Titan's 36-yard line.
On the third play from scrimmage, Jayce Hall took the handoff and rambled 58 yards to paydirt, giving TCA a 14-7 lead following Carlson's kick with 6:15 left before halftime.
Delta punted after a three-and-out possession with the Titans starting at their own 40-yard line. An 11-yard gain by Jayce Hall placed the ball at Delta's 49. On the next play Bervig was intercepted by Beau Byers and Delta had the ball back at its own 14-yard line.
Delta's passing game took the spotlight in this drive. Roberts hit Byers for back-to-back 18- and 38-yard receptions that placed the ball at TCA's 25-yard line. A well-executed route by the speedy Ontiveros resulted in a 25-yard scoring strike from Roberts to close the scoring gap to 13-14. Ontiveros' PAT kick was wide, giving the Titans a one-point lead with 2:40 left in the second quarter.
just five plays. Ontiveros commented on his touchdown catch after the game. "I didn't see the ball at first. It was over the wrong shoulder (right side) and I had to turn to see it just in time to catch it. I didn't know I was that close to the goal when I caught it."
TCA took the ball to Delta's 44-yard line before being forced to punt and the Panthers ran the clock out to trail 14-13 at halftime.
Talk at halftime centered around not wanting the season to be over. A comment of "This can't be your last game. We can't go out this way." From that, players vowed to stay together and make Delta proud.
The Panthers began the second half 80 yards away from the end zone. Ponce asserted himself in the beginning of the period with runs of 25, 13 and 8 yards. A 9-yard run from Ponce placed the ball at TCA's 1-yard line. Roberts called his own number to cover the final yard to give Delta a 20-14 lead after Ontiveros' kick for extra point. The 80-yard drive took 13 plays.
TCA, again, had success moving the ball in the middle of the field but bogged down inside the 20-yard line. A 19-yard run from Bervig moved the ball to Delta's 17 only to see two straight losses set the ball back to the 20 where the Titans lost the ball on downs.
The Panthers began their final scoring drive in the waning moments of the third period. Ponce picked up 19 yards on three running plays and Byers added 13 and 23 yards to his receiving stats on the accuracy of Roberts' throwing arm. The quarter ended with the ball resting on the 24-yard line.
Byers had dropped a pass earlier in the game but came up with several key receptions to keep the drive alive. When asked about the early drop, Byers responded with, "I was motivated to catch the next one. I know the team wants me to catch balls and I didn't want to let them down. I just focused more."
In the fourth quarter, Ponce ran the ball for 6 yards to the 18. From there Roberts found Brown all alone for an 18-yard scoring strike with 10:35 left in the game. Ontiveros made the extra point kick to make the score 27-14.
TCA put together a drive that moved the ball to the Panthers' 6-yard line. A fumble, recovered by Delta's Kory Mills, snuffed out the scoring threat at Delta's 11-yard line.
The Panthers were unable to move the ball on their next possession and punted from their own 22. The Titans took possession on their own 34.
An interception by Cameron Schaal ended TCA's drive.
Delta controlled the ball on its next possession but was unable to move the chains and turned the ball over on downs near midfield.
TCA moved the ball to Delta's 13-yard line before a Bervig pass was deflected and intercepted by Ponce in the end zone to end the Titans' final shot at scoring.
Delta rolled up 412 yards of offense against the Titans. The Panthers had 231 yards on the ground, led by Ponce's 165 yards on 32 rushes, and another 181 through the air, paced by Byers' six catches for 112 yards.
The Classical Academy posted 448 yards of offense with 239 coming through the air. Weeks caught three Bervig passes for 66 yards and Jayce Hall topped Titan rushers with 11 carries for 91 yards.
This week's practice sessions promise to be intense with intentions of making it past the semifinal round and into the finals.
Delta is slated to play in Johnstown against number two Roosevelt on Saturday at 1 p.m. Both teams enter the game with 11-1 records.
And, by the way, the last time the Panthers won a state title in football was in 1960 against Cañon City, 12-7.
In 1961 Delta reached the finals once again but lost a 40-14 decision to Lamar to end its season short of its intended goal.
The seventh annual Eckert Crane Days, the annual viewing of the sandhill cranes migrating north from New Mexico through Colorado's West Slope, will be March 16-18. Representatives from the Black Canyon Chapter of the Audubon Society (BCAS) will be at the viewing site east of Eckert at Fruitgrowers Reservoir, 9 to 11 a.m. each day, to answer questions and provide binoculars and spotting scopes.