Big first-half plays help Delta roll past Cougars in Class 2A playoffs
DELTA — The Delta Panthers were in a little bit of trouble. Not a lot, but trailing 8-0 in the second quarter, they needed a spark.
They actually got more than one, and those sparks ignited the Panthers to a 23-8 win over Resurrection Christian in the Class 2A state playoff quarterfinals on Saturday.
“I think our physicality was a big part of it, I think it wore on them as the game went on and we were banking on that,” coach Ben Johnson said.
Delta (8-3), the 10th seed, got big plays in every phase of the game in beat the second-seeded and previously unbeaten Cougars (10-1).
Spark No. 1: A 33-yard touchdown pass from Kole Roberts to Damon Jensen shortly before the half to cut the Cougars’ lead to 8-7.
Spark No. 2: Jensen took the second-half kickoff and busted free for a 75-yard return. Two plays later, Roberts faked a handoff and scampered around the end for a 2-yard TD.
Spark No. 3: After the Roberts TD, the Panthers’ defense forced a quick three-and-out with Jason Kaighn making a big tackle on third down.
With all the momentum swinging to Delta’s side, the Panthers controlled the rest of the second half, dominating the line of scrimmage for much of that time.
“That’s how we play football, we want to be physical every game,” senior fullback/linebacker Tristan Brown.
Brown, who has seen his carries increase in the playoffs, rushed for 144 yards on 19 carries.
The TD pass to Jensen was huge because the Panthers were struggling to find their offensive rhythm. He went up high to grab the pass and took a shot from a defender, but Jensen bounced off and zipped the final 20 yards for the score.
The conversation at halftime was to play better in the second half.
“At halftime, we weren’t satisfied with the way we played in the first half,” Brown said. “We thought we could have played a lot better, so we came out with fire and a lot energy and intensity.”
Roberts knew they had to play better if Delta was going to advance to the 2A semifinals.
“You realize that this could be your last game ever at Delta High School and that sinks in and hits hard,” he said. “I told everyone in the locker room that I didn’t want this to be our last game. I just told everyone that if we do our job in the second half, it’s our game to win.”
“We learned in the first half what wasn’t working and we were ready when we came out for the second half,” he said. “It’s just that mentality that we know we have to finish teams all the way through the fourth quarter.”
Johnson said Jensen’s kickoff return was the biggest spark of the game.
“The kick return was huge, and then being able to punch it in was big,” he said. “Then we got the immediate three-and-out, and I think that drained them a little.”
Holding a 14-8 lead in the third, Delta got some breathing room following that three-and-out. On third-and-five, Roberts went deep to wide receiver Beau Byers, who got behind the Cougars’ secondary. Byers snagged the throw and skipped into the end zone for a 35-yard TD and a 20-8 lead.
Defensively, the Panthers played hard-nosed physical football and made big plays when they needed them.
The Cougars threatened to get back into the game when they drove to the Delta 14 late in the third, but an incomplete pass on fourth-and-one halted the drive.
Delta then put together nine-play drive, keyed by a 29-yard run by Roberts to set up a 37-yard field goal by A.B. Ontiveros.
Resurrection Christian made one last drive in the fourth but Cameron Schaal made a diving interception in the end zone to give the ball back to the Panthers.
On the play before the pick, Brown swatted down a pass in the end zone.
The first quarter was all about defense.
Both offenses were sluggish with each team punting twice. Byers also intercepted a pass for the Panthers.
After giving up a 5-yard TD pass to Jesse Cross, the Panthers punted once more before finally putting together their first scoring drive late in the second quarter.
Delta, which dropped from Class 3A this season, has now made the semifinals three times in four years.
Delta will be on the road for the semifinals after No. 6 Kent Denver beat No. 3 The Classical Academy 27-24 on Saturday.