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Panthers rumble past Rifle

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Photo by Wayne Crick Delta junior Ethan Keller found running room against Rifle last Friday night. Keller replaced Jonny Ponce in the second quarter of the 3A WSL contest and contributed to the Panthers' win with 13 carries and 68 yards.

Despite knocking off one of the state's top 3A football teams, Delta's Panthers are listed in third place in the 3A WSL, behind Palisade, 2-0 and 5-0, and Grand Junction Central, 2-0 and 4-1. The Panthers are 2-0 and 4-1 as well and have both Central and Palisade left on their regular season schedule.

Last Friday's huge win, 35-21, over the fourth-ranked Rifle Bears was a big step for Delta as the Panthers work their way toward a league title. The win marked the first time since the 2008-09 season that the Panthers have defeated Rifle in football.

MaxPreps, interestingly enough, has Palisade, third, and Rifle, sixth, listed ahead of the Panthers, which are listed 12th. Eagle Valley, 1-1 and 4-1, is listed fifth. Delta will face the Devils on Oct. 23 in Delta.

Last Friday's contest against Rifle got off to a rousing start for the Panthers as they powered their way to a 21-0 first-quarter lead before Rifle could score its first touchdown in the second quarter.

Delta used scores from Tristan Brown, a one-yard run, and two Jonny Ponce runs of 40 and 71 yards to stun the highly touted Bears with 21 points.

After Ponce's second score, a second personal foul on the talented senior running back was called resulting in his ejection from the game.

With Ethan Keller filling in for Ponce, Delta was able to hold on for the important 3A WSL win with Kory Mills and Beau Byers scoring on pass plays of 12 and nine yards, respectively, from Kole Roberts. Those scores came in the third quarter.

A.B. Ontiveros hit all five of the PAT kicks for the 35 points scored by Delta.

Ethan Strouse scored Rifle's first touchdown in the opening minute of the second quarter. Freshman Eduardo Ruiz kicked the extra point.

Blaine Vance scored Rifle's second touchdown from 48 yards out with 6:18 left in the third quarter. Ruiz's kick was wide right leaving the Panthers ahead 28-13.

Tyler Bosshardt raced 79 yards to score Rifle's last touchdown with 4:55 left in the game. The Bears converted on a two-point conversion try with Strouse throwing a pass to Bosshardt for a final score of 35-21.

The Panthers had 77 yards through the air on eight of 13 passing by Kole Roberts. Roberts' favorite receiver was Beau Byers, who had six catches for 61 yards and a nine-yard acrobatic reception in the third period.

Ponce, before leaving the game, rushed nine times for 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Keller carried the ball 13 times, as Ponce's replacement, for 64 yards. Roberts had 28 yards on four carries and Brown ran for 25 yards on eight carries and a touchdown.

Rifle's Tyler Bosshardt was the top ground-gainer for Rifle with 146 yards on 13 carries.

Defensively, Mills' 15 tackles led a stingy Delta defense with Brown and Cameron Schaal contributing 11 and 10 tackles each. Josh Reeder and Stephen Davignon added nine tackles apiece for the winners. Reeder also had two sacks in the game.

Byers, Sam Komives, Brown and Schaal had interceptions that stopped Rifle drives.

When asked his thoughts on the big win in Rifle, head coach Ben Johnson had this response. "I thought it was a great team effort. At halftime we talked about what adjustments we needed to make with Keller filling in for Ponce and setting an offense that would include his best running plays."

The effort and quick start to games has been a topic of concern for some time for Johnson. "I thought the kids played hard and we started fast like we talked about all week."

Delta's defensive play was stellar with key stops negating a solid running attack by the Bears. "I thought the defensive line played very well," noted Johnson. "Our linebacker play was outstanding. The offense executed very well throughout the game and we made a bunch of big plays."

The Panthers will celebrate Homecoming this week and face Summit's Tigers Friday night, Oct. 9. Kickoff has been set for 6 p.m.

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