Panthers bite ‘Dogs
Balanced offense helps Delta top Palisade
DELTA — Delta used a balanced attack and overcame some second-half adversity Friday night to upset top-ranked and previously unbeaten Palisade 31-21 in Class 3A Western Slope Conference football game.
The Panthers got a complete team effort from juniors and seniors, a spectacular performance from a sophomore running back and a game-icing field goal by a backup freshman kicker to pick up the win.
Jonny Ponce rushed for 285 yards on 32 carries, and his 56-yard run in the fourth quarter helped set up freshman kicker Kole Roberts’ 20-yard field goal with 1 minute, 53 seconds left to play.
The drive started on Delta’s 1-yard line with 6:14 remaining and the Panthers leading 28-21.
Delta converted a clutch third down when quarterback Cade Gafford hit Tyler Sandoval for a gain of 10 on third-and-7 from the Panthers’ 4. Ponce broke loose on his big run two plays later.
Using a balanced attack, the Panthers (6-2, 3-1 WSC) kept the Bulldogs (7-1, 3-1 WSC) guessing. Gafford completed 21 of 31 passes for 211 yards and two scores.
Leading 21-7 in the third, Delta was driving when Gafford made a rare miscue. Palisade cornerback Tass Crow grabbed a high pass and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown.
Palisade quarterback Levi Hoaglund, who ran for 158 yards on 17 carries, broke free for a 25-yard TD run, and the game was tied at 21-21.
“I thought we had the game pretty much in control, then we threw that pick-six,” Delta coach Ben Johnson said. “We had some adversity, but we were able to battle back and get that momentum back.”
On the next drive, the Panthers went on a 13-play, 73-yard drive that consisted of four Ponce runs and nine Gafford throws.
Gafford hit his favorite target, Ryan Whiteside, for a gain of 11 yards to convert one third down. Then, on fourth-and-6 from the 9, Gafford zipped a throw to tight end Kory Mills for the score to give the Panthers a 28-21 lead..
Delta jumped to a 7-0 lead on a 5-yard Gafford pass to Sandoval. That capped a 15-play, 80-yard drive.
After Hoaglund scored on a 35-yard run, Ponce answered with a tackle-breaking, 80-yard run down the left sideline.
Defensively, the Panthers came up with a huge stop inside their 5-yard line on the Bulldogs’ next drive when Hoaglund bobbled the snap.
With the clock running down in the second quarter, Delta put together an 11-play drive.
Whiteside had catches for 35 and 17 yards on the drive. Then, with 14 seconds remaining and the ball on the 3-yard line, Johnson went to a trick play.
Derek Horn replaced Ponce at running back and took the sweep pitch to the right. But he suddenly pulled up and threw a quick pass to Whiteside, who made a diving catch in the back of the end zone for the 21-7 lead.
Whiteside finished with 108 yards on eight catches, and he had two interceptions on defense.
“We are really coming together and starting to execute against these good teams,” Whiteside said about the offense.
Sandoval, who caught a number of short swing passes that he turned into nice gains, finished with nine catches for 68 yards.
The Palisade passing attack struggled throughout most of the game, with Hoaglund missing on his first seven passes. Whiteside picked off Hoaglund’s final pass at the goal line to halt the Bulldogs’ final drive.
The win bolsters Delta’s playoffs chances and sets up a second straight big game when the Panthers travel to Rifle next Friday night.
“It’s a big win. We knew we had to get (a win) with one of these two games,” Johnson said at having a shot at the playoffs.
This is the second straight year Delta has beaten Palisade.
The 3A WSC now has three teams with one conference loss. Delta lost to Glenwood Springs, and Rifle lost to Palisade.