Defense lets Delta celebrate
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — It came down to one play. One team’s dream would stay alive. For the other, it would be the end of the season.
It’s combination of the cruel finality and unbridled excitement of playoff football.
On a wet, cold Saturday afternoon at Stubler Memorial Field, Delta celebrated a 13-9 victory in the Class 3A quarterfinals and will play on.
The play: Fourth-and-one from the 2-yard line. Twenty-two players caked with mud and sweat pounded each other like they had for the entire game.
With 15 seconds remaining, two gritty, physical seniors collided. Cordell Stroud knifed into the backfield, Glenwood running back Henry Hill in his cross-hairs. Hill cut to his left but there was no chance. Stroud dropped Hill for a loss of two, ensuring the Panthers’ spot in the semifinals.
“I was just focused on shooting through the hole and getting the tackle,” Stroud said “We knew we had to stop the run and out-physical them.”
In a game that grew sloppier by the minute, the second half was a battle of field position and conservative play calling by Delta.
The Demons started their final drive at the Panthers’ 38 with 3:59 remaining.
Travis Lundin scrambled out of the pocket and found Derrick Chase for 11 to move the ball to the 12.
Hill gained 7 yards to get the ball to the 3. But Delta’s defense was up to the challenge. Chase was stuffed twice, the second time for a loss of 2. Then Stroud dropped Hill on fourth down.
Delta coach Ben Johnson said the Panthers studied Glenwood’s running game and had a specific strategy.
“We attacked their motion. They like to run toward their motion and that’s something we worked on in practice,” he said.
After sophomore running back Jonny Ponce, playing on a tender ankle, ran for 120 yards in the first half, Glenwood held him to only 31 yards in the second half.
“We stayed pretty conservative, running between the tackles, and they did a great job shutting him down,” Johnson said.
Delta scored all of its points in the first quarter, then tried to milk the clock and limit mistakes.
Ponce ripped off a 37-yard run on the fourth play of the game to give Delta a 6-0 lead.
After an exchange of punts, Glenwood went on an 11-play drive but had to settle for a 30-yard field goal by Robert Hiles.
Delta immediately responded, this time Ponce going 59 yards for the score, breaking two tackles at the line of scrimmage and one more in the secondary.
The Glenwood defense started dominating the game from that point on and held the Panthers without a first down in the second and third quarters.
With seniors Garrett Lowe and Colton Vail leading the way for the Demons, Delta’s running game was a non-factor after the first quarter.
Defensively, Stroud, Tyler Sandoval and Kelby Brown made play after play, but Glenwood’s mistakes were a huge factor, too.
In the second quarter, with the ball on the 19, a bad snap resulted in a loss of 23 and a Delta fumble recovery at the 42.
The Panthers’ usual solid passing game was hideous in the wet weather.
Quarterback Cade Gafford was 1 for 6 and his lone completion, an 11-yarder to Devin Williams, would have been blasted from the sky if a duck hunter was in the area.
Glenwood came into the game wanting to use the hard-running Hill as much as possible. He was the definition of a workhorse, gaining 125 yards on 35 carries.
Lundin was effective in the passing game, completing 9 of 13 passes for 79 yards.
Late in the third, Glenwood grabbed the momentum.
After Lundin hit Chase on a swing pass for a gain of 5, Glenwood used the same formation but went to a screen to Hill the opposite way. He took the pass, broke two tackles and ran in from 22 yards out to make the score 13-9.
Glenwood recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff.
As it had all game, the Panthers’ defense was up to the challenge and kept the Demons from scoring.
Delta picked up two first downs to start the fourth, with Sandoval gaining tough yardage up the middle.
But the Panthers had to punt the ball back to Glenwood. Delta punted six times after the first quarter.
In the second half, the Panthers’ defense bent, but only gave up the one TD.
It was a sad ending for Glenwood (8-4), which had won eight straight after starting the season 0-3.
“Laying there two yards away from playing again is a tough thing,” Hill said, his face streaked with tears.
The game was a rematch of a 15-7 Glenwood win in Week 5.
“We were playing as one and we couldn’t be stopped,” Sandoval said. “We really wanted a rematch with these guys and it worked out for us.”
Two missed extra points changed the complexion of the game. Delta missed a kick after its first TD, then Glenwood had its extra point blocked after its TD.
Delta (9-3), the 13 seed, hosts No. 9 Silver Creek (10-2) in the semifinals. Silver Creek is looking to make a third straight trip to the Class 3A title game. It lost in 2011 and won it last year over Rifle.
Coronado, the sixth seed, beat No. 3 Roosevelt and will play No. 7 The Classical Academy, which beat Palisade 24-21 on Friday night.