Delta keeps playoff hopes alive by beating Cortez


Playoff success

Five straight playoff appearances for the Panthers

2016 — Lost in 2A semifinals

2015 — Lost in 3A quarterfinals

2014 — Lost in 3A quarterfinals

2013 — Lost in 3A semifinals

2012 — Lost in 3A quarterfinals

DELTA — At this point in the season, every game is big for the Delta High School football team.

But next week’s game might be the biggest of all.

The Panthers dispatched Montezuma-Cortez 23-7 on Thursday night, setting up a game in Bayfield on Oct. 20 with huge playoff implications. The Wolverines are currently undefeated, including their first win over Durango in program history in an on-and-off rivalry that started in 1924.

As of late Thursday night, Delta sat at No. 24 in the Class 2A RPI standings. They’ll likely climb in the rankings with games tonight and Saturday, but even then, it’s going to be a tight finish for Delta and coach Ben Johnson. Close nonconference losses to Durango and Palisade, plus more lopsided defeats to Basalt and Pagosa Springs, have set the Panthers back.

Delta has reached at least the quarterfinals in the state playoffs every year since 2012 and that streak is in danger of coming to an end.

“I think if we beat Bayfield, we’re in,” Johnson said. “It’s a do-or-die situation for us. If we lose to them, we’re out. It’s unfortunate we lost close games to Durango and Palisade. We’ve played some really bad games along the way, too, so we’re in a must-win situation now.”

Delta (3-4, 2-1 2A Intermountain Conference) helped its playoff aspirations against Cortez (1-5, 0-3) by winning at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football.

Cortez finished with zero yards rushing on 19 carries and had minus-6 ground yards in the first half. Conversely, Delta running back Brendon Starr had 287 yards rushing on 33 carries, plus an 82-yard touchdown run that was wiped out with a penalty.

Delta got traction early, ending its first drive with a 30-yard field goal from Noah Higgs.

Cortez responded with effective passing, but its opening drive ended on a fourth-down sack that gave Delta the ball at its own 41. Three plays later, Starr blasted through several arm tackles and ran 46 yards for a touchdown. After the missed PAT, Delta led 9-0 late in the first quarter.

“The offensive line played great,” Starr said. “Gave me a lot of room to run.”

Delta put the game out of reach in the third quarter with its rushing attack.

Cortez’s first drive ended after four plays with a turnover on downs. Three runs by Starr put Delta in the red zone, a short completion from quarterback Drake Horn to Kole Granger brought the offense to the 1, and Horn took an option keeper out of the pistol formation for a 1-yard touchdown.

The next Cortez drive ended with a bad snap and fumble that Delta recovered, then Horn connected with a wide-open Gage Lockhart for an 8-yard score.

Cortez’s offense struggled the rest of the way, but finally scored after a completion gave them 1st and goal at the 1. Delta stopped two short passes and a rushing attempt before Cortez quarterback Ike Dennison was flushed to his right on fourth down. The athletic junior evaded two would-be tacklers and slipped in for a 1-yard touchdown.

Dennison finished with 19 completions on 39 attempts for 254 yards.

Johnson said the defense played well, even as they allowed a few big plays in the passing game, but there are still things that need to be cleaned up for the Bayfield game.

“Our front seven has played pretty good,” Johnson said. “We’ve just had so many penalties. That’s a little discouraging. We’ve just got to play cleaner next week.”


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