Turnovers dictated last Saturday's Class 3A semifinal football game outcome between Delta's Panthers and the Roosevelt Roughriders in Johnstown. A promising beginning for Delta turned into a 30-23 loss which eliminated the Panthers from this year's 2015 state football championships.
Delta opened the game with a first-possession drive that covered 58 yards in just four plays for a 7-0 lead with 10:37 left in the first period.
A.B. Ontiveros took the opening kickoff from near the Panthers' goal line and returned it to Delta's 42-yard line.
Jonny Ponce, Class 3A runner-up in rushing, snapped off a 14-yard gain to Roosevelt's 44. His next run was for just 1 yard to the 43. From there, Kole Roberts and Beau Byers hooked up for a 43-yard touchdown. With Ontiveros' extra-point kick, the Panthers silenced the home crowd with a 7-0 lead.
The Roughriders had the ensuing kickoff, that looked like a touchdown, called back on a holding penalty, placing the ball on their own 11-yard line to begin play.
Roosevelt picked up one of its 16 first downs of the day with quarterback Cameron Hurtado scurrying for 22 yards. Delta's defense took advantage of the situation and held the Roughriders to three more plays and a punt.
Neither team was effective on their next possessions.
On the first play of Delta's third possession, a pass to Beau Byers was caught and then fumbled following a hard hit. Roosevelt recovered the ball at Delta's 37 to begin its third possession.
Big Christian Maij-szak started the drive with a 27-yard run to Delta's 10. From there, runs of 7 and 3 yards by Hurtado got the Roughriders on the board. Kevin Vargas' try for point sailed wide right, leaving Delta on top, 7-6, with 5:23 left on the first-period clock.
Roosevelt forced the Panthers to punt near the end of the first period and began a drive from its own 49-yard line.
Play began on Delta's 15 to begin the second quarter.
Hurtado ran for 41 yards in the drive and capped a 13-play effort with a 10-yard plunge with 10:46 left in the second frame. A try for two points failed, leaving the score at 12-7.
Delta moved the ball on its next possession with runs from Ponce and Byers' catches of 10 and 8 yards. Back-to-back penalties, one each for both teams, left the ball at Roosevelt's 40-yard line. Roberts' next pass attempt was picked off by Olando Rivera and returned to the Roughriders' 26-yard line.
The Panthers' defense held and forced Roosevelt to punt the ball back to them, where Delta's offense began its next series from its own 28.
Delta used 10 running plays, and a 12-yard pass to Byers, to get the ball to Roosevelt's 6-yard line. Rivera read Roberts' eyes and was able to intercept his (Rivera's) second pass of the game and race down the right sideline to Delta's 25-yard line. With 4.4 seconds left in first-half play, Vargas drilled a 42-yard field goal, putting the Roughriders on top, 15-7, at halftime.
Third-quarter play began with Roosevelt getting the ball. A good return was again negated on a big penalty, pushing the ball back to the Roughrider 20-yard line. On the first play of the possession, Hurtado
coughed up the ball and was recovered by Delta at the 25.
After a 14-yard run by Ponce, the Panthers' offense stalled, setting up a 25-yard field goal by Ontiveros with 9:32 left in the third period. Delta's deficit closed to five at 15-10.
Roosevelt used a potent running game to grind out 70 yards on six plays to score its next touchdown. Hurtado was good for 28 yards on three runs and Austin Smith scooted for 15, following a penalty, to Delta's 20. Carlos Ortega, a diminutive scatback, broke off an outside play to run straight up the middle for the final 20 yards. After the PAT, Roosevelt held a 22-10 lead with 7:33 left in the third period.
Delta, beginning from its own 20, put together another promising drive that provided 44 yards that eventually placed the ball at Roosevelt's 31. Roosevelt's biggest weapon of the day, Rivera, was there again to stop Delta's drive with his third interception, with a return that set the Roughriders up at their own 40 to begin their next possession.
This time, however, Delta's defense was solid and forced the Roughriders to turn the ball over on downs at the 39-yard line of Delta early in the fourth quarter.
From there, the Panthers used seven plays to cover the needed 61 yards for another score. Byers caught a 19-yard scoring strike from Roberts to cut Roosevelt's lead to 22-17 following Ontiveros' extra point kick. With 8:36 left in the game, Delta needed the ball back quickly.
Delta's defense did its job when the Roughriders started on Roosevelt's 20. Unfortunately, the punt, which would have given Delta a great chance to take the lead, hit a Delta defensive player and was recovered by a Roosevelt defender at Delta's 46.
Roosevelt capitalized on Delta's misfortune to score on a 15-yard run by Maijszak with 2:39 left in the game. This time, a two-point run was good, making the score 30-17.
Delta's final drive included six penalties, 18 plays an untimed down to move the ball 80 yards, and the game's final six points. A defensive penalty against Roosevelt extended the game one play with no time showing on the game clock.
Delta called time out to discuss options and came up with a handoff to Ponce who ran to his right and then pulled up to throw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Tristan Brown. With the game out of reach by more than one point, the PAT was not allowed, leaving the final score 30-23.
Delta coach Ben Johnson made no accusations as to blame for Saturday's loss. In talking about his team's final game of 2015, Johnson had some disappointments that determined the final outcome.
"There were a few disappointments that stood out. I felt we were in it all the way but mistakes went their way. The first one was when we had the ball at the 5 ready to score and they get a pick and return the ball to their own 25-yard line. From there they kicked a field goal with 4.4 seconds left before half."
Johnson knows his play selection was hurried and maybe not the most appropriate one to call. "It was just before halftime and we were out of timeouts on that play."
One of the key disappointments came in second-half play following a touchdown that brought the Panthers to 22-17 with 5:32 left in the game. "We needed a stand and got just what we wanted to force a punt. Unfortunately, the ball hit our defender and Roosevelt recovered the ball. They scored after recovering the ball and it seemed we lost some of the umph we had previously."
"Our kids have been really good all year under pressure games where we were behind, especially games with Central and Palisade where we came back to win," noted Johnson.
Johnson summed up the loss with, "We hindered ourselves more than anything else did."
It's tough to single out players who contributed the most, but Johnson mentioned the play of some of the Panthers who have been so strong all season long. "Byers had a fabulous game for us. He went up between three defenders and caught the ball."
Johnson praised the play of his senior group, with just 10 on the roster, to provide leadership. "Players like Kory Mills who was the vocal defensive leader for Delta while Ponce was more quiet but led by example. The play of Stephen Davignon was exceptional as his smaller build belied what he brought to each game.
"In all, a great season for us," stated Johnson.
Statistically, the Panthers had one of their better seasons, finishing with an 11-2 record and the number four ranking in Class 3A football. Competition becomes fierce with the state's best teams playing for supremacy. Delta's Panthers have proven they are definitely in that classification.
Ponce finished as the 3A runner-up in rushing yardage with 1621 after missing two games this year. What if? Fort Morgan's Tate Kembel ended the year with 1707 to finish first.
Junior Beau Byers was ninth in receiving in Class 3A with 880 yards and an 80 yard per game average. Each reception for Byers equated to a 16.6 reception average and he finished with seven touchdowns.
Roberts, a junior, was seventh in passing with 1915 yards. That was good for an average of 174 yards a game with 11 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 112.6. Brown was 12th in tackles for the season with 135 (62 solo and 73 assists). Sophomore Cameron Schall finished eighth in interceptions with five.
The Panthers are young, with plenty of talent returning for next year's run at a state title.