Familiar foe

Delta set for rematch with Classical Academy in 3A quarters

Jonny Ponce is the leading rusher for Delta, running for 1,453 yards for the Panthers, who host The Classical Academy on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A playoffs. Ponce was involved in a key play in Delta’s season-opening victory over the Titans, returning a disputed fumble 90 yards to set up a late touchdown.

Beau Byers is Delta’s top receiving threat, with 764 yards and seven touchdowns on 47 catches for the 10-1 Panthers, who host The Classical Academy at 1 p.m. on Saturday in the Class 3A state quarterfinals.



No. 7 The Classical Academy (8-3) at No. 3 Delta (10-1)

Quarterfinals, 1 p.m. Saturday, Panther Stadium, Delta


Classical Academy — David Bervig, fourth season, 31-14. Delta — Ben Johnson, seventh season, 53-27.


■ The Titans finished second in the South Central Conference standings to top-seeded and defending state champion Pueblo East.

■ Classical Academy earned its first postseason victory in program history when it defeated Conifer, 14-12, in the first round of the 2013 playoffs. The Titans went on to beat Palisade, 24-21, in the quarterfinals before losing to eventual state champion Coronado in the semifinals.

■ Quarterback Austin Bervig (6-foot, 205 pounds) is 92 of 178 passing for 1,309 yards and 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He’s also second on the team in rushing yards with 593 yards and five touchdowns on 112 carries.

■ Senior tailback Jayce Hall (5-8, 170) has a team-high 721 rushing yards and 10 TDs on 129 carries.

■ Bervig has two primary receivers, Hall and junior Sawyer Weeks. Weeks has a team-high 20 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns, and Hall has 19 catches for 151 yards. Hall and Weeks are also the primary kickoff and punt returners for the Titans.

■ Senior inside linebacker Kyle Peterson (6-1, 225) leads TCA with 96 tackles. The Titans balance the workload on defense accordingly with tackles, as Peterson is followed by linebacker Austin Weingart (69 tackles), free safety Alex Miller (69), linebacker Rhys Ryba (69) and defensive tackle Luke Bethany (68).

■ TCA has 14 fumble recoveries this season, including three-recovery games against Palisade (Sept. 3) and Sierra (Oct. 16).


■ Delta won the Class 3A Western Slope Conference championship this season for the first time since playing in the classification. The Panthers’ 47-7 win against Harrison last Saturday marked the fourth consecutive season they won a first-round postseason game.

■ Delta averages 383 yards of total offense per game, which ranks fourth among the remaining eight teams in the Class 3A playoff field. The Panthers have the most balanced offense in the field, amassing 1,810 passing yards and 2,403 rushing yards in 11 games.

■ Panthers’ quarterback Kole Roberts has completed 62.2 percent (102 for 164) of his pass attempts this season. That ratio ranks fourth among Class 3A quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts this season, with D’Evelyn’s Owen Burke (73.3 percent) leading the way.

■ Delta’s second-leading rusher is senior fullback Tristan Brown (6-3, 227 pounds), who has 437 yards and 15 touchdowns on only 67 carries. On defense, Brown’s 112 tackles this season — including 49 solo stops — from his position at linebacker is a team high.

■ Sophomore linebacker Cameron Schaal leads the Panthers in takeaways. His two fumble recoveries are tied for the team lead with Ponce, and he has four of Delta’s 12 interceptions this season.

■ Junior Beau Byers’s 47 catches for 764 yards and seven touchdowns are tops on the team. The Panthers have three receivers with at least 10 catches: Brown (14), AB Ontiveros (18) and Kory Mills (16).

■ Delta’s defense, from Sept. 25 to Oct. 23, outscored its WSC opponents 182-21. The only team to score against the Panthers was Rifle in a 35-21 Delta victory on Oct. 2. The Panthers defeated Steamboat Springs (49-0), Summit 
(42-0), Glenwood Springs (56-0) and Eagle Valley (41-0).

Memories of the fateful play from the beginning of the season are still fresh in the minds of the Delta and The Classical Academy high school football teams. Each team remembers the play differently, though.

The Classical Academy believed it scored what should have been a go-ahead touchdown. Delta believed it took advantage of a mistake.

The end result of the play was a 38-35 season-opening victory for the Panthers, the third consecutive time Delta had beaten the Titans. And that end result drew the ire of TCA coach David Bervig, who earlier this week admitted his postgame comments were reactionary.

“When I said what I said, I was pretty hot,” the Titans’ third-year coach said. “It really was not the best time for me to answer questions.”

The Titans (8-3) and Panthers (10-1) will have at least one more postgame interview session this season when the teams meet in the quarterfinal round of the Class 3A state playoffs. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Panther Stadium in Delta, with the winner playing either Evergreen or Roosevelt in next week’s semifinals.

“We have talked about that,” Delta coach Ben Johnson said in reference to Bervig’s postgame comments Aug. 28. “He might have been angry because we beat them for the third straight time. I think there’ll be a lot of things to motivate their kids, but our kids will have a few things to motivate them, too.”

The play in question came with 8 minutes, 21 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter with Delta leading 31-28. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, TCA quarterback Austin Bervig attempted to run into the end zone from the 1 and, according to TCA players and fans, didn’t lose hold of the football until he was “2 yards” inside of the end zone.

Game officials, however, didn’t signal a touchdown. Delta senior Jonny Ponce picked up the ball and returned it 90 yards to the TCA 10 and then scored a touchdown two plays later.

“I think it’s a blown call,” Bervig told the Gazette, adding, “Here’s the deal: We beat Delta tonight.”

Johnson said on his team’s video footage, the game official was staring right at the play and, in Johnson’s mind, the TCA quarterback was bobbling the ball as he crossed the goal line. David Bervig said he still believes his quarterback scored the go-ahead touchdown even though the referee never blew his whistle to end the play.

“I really got lost in the moment there,” the coach said, admitting that TCA Athletic Director Gary Geiger spoke with him about his postgame comments. “I shouldn’t have said what I did. But I still believe that we scored that touchdown, and I still believe it was a 14-point swing in that game, but I will also admit that I know better that a game never comes down to just one play. We should have played better.

“I told our guys that if I’m coach Johnson, I would pin that article up in the locker room and use it as motivation. Still, we have a lot of respect for Delta and its coaching staff. They’ve proven how good they are.”

Both teams have.

The Panthers, winners of the 3A Western Slope Conference, are making their fourth consecutive postseason appearance and have reached the quarterfinals each year. One of those victories came in 2012, when the Panthers won 21-0 at TCA in the first round before losing 35-24 to Pueblo East in the quarterfinals.

Delta won both ends of a regular-season home-and-home series over the past two years, including this season’s opener in Colorado Springs. The Panthers’ success this season is thanks to a read-option offense, which has helped them average 40.5 points per game and outscore their opponents 446-157.

Much of that scoring has come from Ponce, the running back whose 1,453 rushing yards is ranked fourth among 3A ball carriers. Helping balance Ponce’s running prowess is junior quarterback Kole Roberts, who has thrown for 1,732 yards and nine touchdowns. Roberts, who is averaging 8.4 yards per carry, is one of seven Delta players who are averaging least 4.9 yards per carry this season.

“Last time we played them, they really keyed on Ponce,” Johnson said. “We’ll need a lot of people to step up for us.”

The Titans’ defense might be up to that task. TCA has allowed single-digit scoring against five opponents, shutting out South Central Conference opponents Sierra and Pueblo County. During TCA’s 17-10 victory against Evergreen on Oct. 2, David Bervig said all of Evergreen’s points came off turnovers.

Delta and TCA come into Saturday’s game knowing a lot about each other, something not often seen from postseason opponents who don’t play in the same conference.

“There’s a bit of comfort with us and Delta and ... we didn’t have that with Mead,” said David Bervig, a Grand Junction native, about his team’s 48-38 first-round win against Mead. “We’ll both know a lot about each other on Saturday.”


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