Right time to click
Delta rides late-season surge into Class 3A state quarterfinals
Looking at the Class 3A football playoff bracket before the first-round games had been played, Delta coach Ben Johnson saw one team in particular that stood out — the No. 5 seed.
“The sleeper is Pueblo East,” Johnson said at the time. “They only had one loss all year, and that was to The Classical Academy.”
Yet Delta is the team that has snoozed from its No. 13 seed to a wide-awake reality in the quarterfinals. And the Panthers play Johnson’s sleeper pick, No. 5 Pueblo East (9-2), in the quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Saturday at Delta High School.
The Panthers (8-3) burst into the Class 3A top-10 rankings after a regular-season win over Palisade, then finished strong and made the playoffs. With a 21-0 win in the first round over No. 4 The Classical Academy last week, Delta finds itself one win away from a possible rematch with Rifle in the state semifinals.
Johnson said Delta may have surprised some teams — TCA to begin with.
“I think so,” he said. “We went to that Classical Academy, and you can sort of tell a team, when they look at you during warmups, if they honestly think they can beat you. I don’t think they thought we could be in the game.”
And although TCA didn’t have starting quarterback Jantzen Ryals, who had passed for 1,872 yards and 21 touchdowns, Delta limited TCA, which started freshman Austin Bervig at quarterback, to 167 yards of total offense.
Johnson said Delta’s defense began clicking against Palisade, then gained confidence when it limited Rifle to 21 points.
The Panthers have team speed, Johnson said, and are good tacklers, led by junior Cordell Stroud (8.6 tackles per game), senior Hunter Brasfield (4.1) and senior Robert Williams (7.9).
“In high school football you pretty much do tackling drills every day,” Johnson said. “Tackling is a mind-set, and it’s an aggressive attitude. (Our players) have it, and they want to be good tacklers. And we work on toughness. In a league where three teams are left out of eight in state, you better be tough, and you better be tackling well, or you’re not going to come out of your league.”
Pueblo East led TCA in the regular season by 21 points late in the game, East coach David Ramirez said, but gave up 21 points in 45 seconds and lost, 37-33.
East was 6-4 the past two seasons and on the cusp of qualifying for state. East had not qualified for state since 2008.
“We’d played some good football,” Ramirez said, “and I think at the time we were a little inconsistent as the season went on, so we wanted to shore that up this season.”
The Eagles are led by running back Derion Ibarra, who has 1,207 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns.
A challenge for Bears?
Eleven games into the season, and No. 1 seed Rifle still has not been involved in a game that was close in the final quarter.
Maybe No. 8 Roosevelt (7-4), the team that knocked No. 9 Palisade out of the playoffs last week, can provide the Bears (11-0) some prime competition.
The teams play the quarterfinal 1 p.m. Saturday at Rifle High School.
Rifle can run, pass when needed, and its defense, which has six shutouts, has proved to be one of the state’s best. And then there’s one of the state top running backs, Ryan Moeller.
“This isn’t going to be a walk in the park,” Roosevelt coach Noland Eastin said. “Just a straight up dogfight. For us to have any opportunity, we have to play solid.”
So where is the balance between showing the Bears respect and not fearing them? Remembering their humanity, for one.
“They put their pants on one leg at a time, too,” Eastin said. “You’ve got to respect opponents, especially a great team like Rifle, but the game of football does not reward for cowardice or doubt.”
Palisade coach John Arledge, before the Bulldogs’ 21-15 loss to the Roughriders, called Roosevelt tough and aggressive, high praise from a coach who preaches those same qualities to his own players.
Can Roosevelt slow Moeller? Roosevelt’s defense seems to be more prone to the pass than the run. For example, in a 52-20 win over Centaurus in September, Roosevelt allowed quarterback David Shaid 347 yards passing and three touchdowns. But Roosevelt allowed only nine total yards rushing.
Likewise, in a 21-14 regular-season win over Silver Creek, which still is alive in the playoffs, Roosevelt limited the Raptors to 50 yards rushing, yet allowed 190 yards passing and two touchdowns.
If there is a challenge for Rifle and its ground game that averages 368 yards per game (224 by Moeller), this could be it.
Oh, Rifle defeated Roosevelt, 14-7, last season in the first round of the state playoffs.
“They were tough; very physical,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “They’re similar now; they have many kids back just like we do. I thought they were a tough team last year, and they’re even better this year.”