Panthers come up just short
Delta's playoff run ends against Silver Creek
DELTA — Cade Gafford threw for 368 yards and Ryan Whiteside caught 12 passes for 191 yards Saturday, but it wasn’t enough for the Delta High School football team.
Silver Creek rallied to score 14 unanswered points in muddy conditions to defeat the Panthers 28-17 in the Class 3A state semifinals at Panther Stadium.
“It seemed like every time we scored they answered back,” Delta coach Ben Johnson said. “That’s what great football teams do. They outplayed us today. The four turnovers were a little bit too much. You can’t win football games with four turnovers.
“It’s tough for (the Panthers) to end like this, but (Silver Creek) made more plays than us.”
Silver Creek (10-2) will play in the state championship game for the third consecutive year and a chance to defend its 2012 state title.
“I’d like to give a ton of credit to Delta High School,” Silver Creek coach Mike Apodaca said. “They played their hearts out and gave us an incredible game. We’re fortunate to move on to the next round.
“I thought both teams made the best out of some tough conditions. We got a couple more stops than they did. I’m proud of our kids’ ability to play for 48 minutes.”
Silver Creek quarterback Ben Sjobakken completed 15 of 24 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns.
He hit Zane Lindsey for a 25-yard touchdown pass after the defense intercepted Gafford for a 7-0 lead, but Gafford came back to connect with Devon Williams down the sideline for a 70-yard score early in the second quarter.
Delta (9-4) went up 10-7 on a 33-yard field goal by AB Ontiveros.
Silver Creek answered with a 61-yard drive in the final two minutes of the first half for a 14-10 lead. Sjobakken completed an 18-yard pass on third down on the drive.
The Panthers opened the second half with an 80-yard drive resulting in Whiteside catching a tipped pass in the end zone for a 13-yard score and a 17-14 lead.
“They double-teamed him all game and he was still getting open,” Johnson said. “He’s a very special player. He’ll be playing somewhere next year.”
Whiteside also stood out on defense, intercepting a Sjobakken pass near the end zone, but the Panthers turned the ball back over when Silver Creek forced a fumble. Junior linebacker Dakota Silva recovered it and returned it 13 yards to the Delta 13.
“We got a strip and it bounced into his hands,” Apodaca said. “I told them right before that play one of the reasons they’re making plays is because they’re around the football. I told them keep going to the ball and good things will happen. They did. We had kids around the ball and it bounced our way.”
One play later, Anthony Kasper scored on a 13-yard run for a 21-17 Silver Creek lead.
Silver Creek forced Delta to punt on its next possession, then went 71 yards for a touchdown and an 11-point lead with 8:23 left in the game.
On the drive, Sjobakken completed a 7-yard pass over the middle to Zane Lindsey on fourth-and-2 at the Delta 15.
“We didn’t come here to lose,” Apodaca said. “You’ve got to trust your kids. When you get to this spot, you’ve got to trust your kids. We’ve done that all year and they’ve made great plays.”
On the next play, Lindsey caught the 8-yard pass from Sjobakken for a touchdown and a 28-17 lead.
Delta had time, but Silver Creek intercepted Gafford again, sealing the victory.
Although it was the end for 15 seniors, Johnson has a good nucleus of players returning next year.
“I think things are looking good,” Johnson said. “We return 16 starters next year and we’re real excited about that. We’ll miss some key seniors, but they took our program to the next step.”