Delta faces red-hot Glenwood
Panthers enter game banged up
Key injuries in the playoffs can be a game changer for many football teams.
It’s been a long season, and the team that is the healthiest can have a huge advantage.
Delta coach Ben Johnson will take the Panthers into Glenwood Springs on Saturday with a number of key injuries, including an offensive guard, a tight end and a 1,500-yard rusher.
“Right now Jonny (Ponce) is a question mark,” he said about the hard-running sophomore.
Ponce burst onto the Class 3A scene this year, powering through and over opposing defenses for 1,503 yards and 14 TDs. Last week, he had 208 yards rushing before leaving late in Delta’s 42-41 overtime win over Holy Family.
“He’s our big play guy, it would be a huge loss for us,” Johnson said.
Saturday’s game features two Class 3A Western Slope Conference teams that went on the road last Saturday and won. Glenwood is the 12th seed and Delta is seeded 13.
The two teams played in Week 5 in Glenwood, and the Demons came away with a 15-7 victory.
But Johnson, who has the Panthers in the Class 3A quarterfinals for the second straight year, knows they have to adjust to their injury problems when they face one of the hottest teams in the playoffs.
Derek Horn and Tyler Sandoval will get the bulk of the carries if Ponce can’t go, he said.
Delta’s diverse, balanced offense will be a key in Saturday’s game, but Johnson said the game also will be about stopping or slowing down Glenwood’s running game.
After an 0-3 start, Glenwood has won eight straight, and the winning formula is an old-fashioned mix of running the ball and playing physical defense.
The key to the running game is senior Henry Hill, who has rushed for more than 1,550 yards this season, including 183 yards in the Demons’ 14-13 upset win over Elizabeth in the first round of the playoffs.
“We have to tackle him and wrap him up.” Johnson said. “If we do a good job with that, we should win.”
It won’t be easy, Johnson said.
“He’s a good cutback runner, and he has great vision. We’ve seen him a lot, and we have to swarm to the ball,” he said.
Rocky Whitworth, Glenwood’s veteran coach, said his team’s improvement has been steady and solid since the rough beginning, and the key has been up front.
“For us, it’s just been an improvement in the offensive line. It just took a while for them to jell,” he said.
Once they improved, the running game exploded, and that was fine with Whitworth.
“I like that cloud of dust,” he said.
Delta’s passing game has been effective throughout the year with junior quarterback Cade Gafford throwing for more than 1,900 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Wide receiver Ryan Whiteside has been one of the top targets in the state with more than 1,000 yards on 64 catches. The 6-foot-3 senior also has 14 TD receptions.
“We’re hoping to get our passing game going,” Johnson said.
Horrendous weather was a factor in first game. Saturday’s forecast calls for balmy weather, which would be a welcome sight for the Panthers.
Whitworth’s shotgun spread offense has tormented teams over the years, and the offense begins with the decision making of the quarterback. Senior Travis Lundin has run the offense for three years and has thrown for more than 900 yards this season.
With such a potent running game, the Demons’ haven’t had to rely on the pass too much during their eight-game win streak. But against Elizabeth, Lundin was effective and efficient, going 9 for 13 for 98 yards.
Defensively, senior Garrett Lowe has been a force all season and leads the team in tackles and sacks. Whitworth said the defense has been solid for the entire season.
Whitworth said he’s impressed with Delta, and the Panthers’ balanced attack will be hard to stop.
“Delta is really one of the top Western Slope football teams,” he said. “We’re really going to try and just hang on because they run the ball really well and throw it well and have good receivers. You can’t concentrate on one thing.”
For the Panthers, Sandoval and Cordell Stroud lead the team in tackles from their linebacker positions.
Delta picked up another weapon last week when soccer player Abraham Ontiveros joined the football team after the soccer season.
“He’d been working with us for the last couple of weeks, so it’s big to have him,” Johnson said.
Ontiveros made all six of his extra-point kicks in last week’s win, which was decided when Holy Family missed an extra-point kick in overtime.
Johnson said it’s also nice to have a kicker who has field-goal range up to 45 yards.
Glenwood’s offense concerns Johnson, and he hopes his offense can dictate time of possession to limit Glenwood’s chances.
“We have to stay on the field as much as possible, and that will keep Glenwood off the field,” he said. “Rocky does such a great job, and they are such a good team.”
Facing the same team twice in a season always poses challenges.
“We will do mainly what we have done all year, but we’ll put in a few new wrinkles,” Johnson said.