Defense, Ponce lead Delta to big victory
DELTA — After plenty of offensive fireworks Friday night, it was Delta’s defense that decided the game.
A defensive stand late in the fourth quarter by the Panthers secured a 27-22 victory over The Classical Academy.
Holding that five-point lead with 1:49 remaining, Delta senior lineman Daniel Brown stuffed a run play on third-and-four from the 19-yard line. A fourth-down pass fell incomplete in the end zone, and the Panthers celebrated.
With both teams coming off Class 3A semifinal appearances last year, the Zero Week game lived up to all of the pregame hype.
Junior running back Jonny Ponce was a beast, rushing for 272 yards on 38 carries. He had two touchdowns in the first half.
The hard-running back gave the Titans credit for a physical game.
“It was a tough game, they played great D,” Ponce said. “We stepped it up and did what we worked for.”
Delta led 20-16 at the half and turned to Ponce and the running game again in the third quarter. Ponce carried six straight times for 64 yards, then Derek Horn burst through the middle for a 9-yard TD to push the lead to 27-16.
The Titans responded immediately on a 21-yard pass from Austin Bervig to Charlie Calvert to make the score 27-22 at the end of the third.
The Classical Academy used the right leg of sophomore kicker Anders Carlson to keep the game close in the first half. He drilled field goals of 37, 43 and 44 yards.
But in the second half, the Titans’ special teams weren’t that special. A high snap cost Anders a chance at another field goal, this one from 34 yards out, then he missed from 36 yards away.
Delta’s high-powered offense sputtered at times, and it had to lean heavily on Ponce. Senior quarterback Cade Gafford attempted only five passes in the second half and finished 6 of 14 for 99 yards.
In the second quarter, facing a fourth-and-18 from The Classical Academy’s 32-yard line, Gaffford made his biggest connection of the game when he hit tight end Kory Mills down the middle for a 28-yard gain. The play set up Ponce 2-yard run two plays later to get the Panthers on the board first at 7-0.
The game looked like it would be a shootout early when Bervig hit Nick DeRay down the seam for an 80-yard score to tie the game at 7-7.
Delta reclaimed the lead on the next series after a 65-yard run by Ponce that set up a 3-yard scoring run by Tristan Brown for a 13-7 lead.
Ponce added a 4-yard run later in the second quarter, and Anders’ three field goals, including the 44-yarder right before the half, made it 20-16 at the half.
Delta looked to put the game out of reach late in the fourth. The Panthers used 11 plays to pick up four first downs and move the ball 54 yards. But the drive stalled, and Delta missed a 42-yard field goal attempt.
The Titans had one last chance to win the game, and after a 43-yard pass play, they were at the Delta 25-yard line. But that’s when the Panthers’ defense stiffened and saved the game.
Delta’s run defense was stout all game, holding the Titans to fewer than 100 yards on the ground. Without an effective running game, Bervig threw the ball 36 times. He completed 15 passes for 325 yards.
Even though the Panthers gave up a lot of passing yards, the hard-hitting defense played a physical brand of football.
With both teams ranked in the preseason top 10 in Class 3A, the game was expected to be tight. And it was.