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Delta rides late-season surge into Class 3A state quarterfinals

Robert Williams is one of Delta High School’s good tacklers, averaging 7.9 tackles per game. The Panthers have posted back-to-back shutouts as they prepare to face Pueblo East in the Class 3A state football quarterfinals Saturday at 1 p.m. in Delta.

Rifle High School’s Kellin Leigh is a solid complement to Ryan Moeller in the Bears’ backfield. Leigh has run for 909 yards and 10 TDs this season.


CLASS 3A Quarterfinals

No. 8 Roosevelt (7-4) at No. 1 Rifle (11-0)

1 p.m. Saturday at Rifle High School

The coaches

Roosevelt — Noland Eastin. Rifle — Damon Wells

Last week

■ Roosevelt defeated Palisade, 21-15. Roosevelt took a 15-0 lead in the first quarter.

■ Rifle defeated Erie, 42-0. The Bears were able to put their second-team offense and defense in the game early in the fourth quarter. Ryan Moeller rushed for 262 yards on 22 carries as Rifle ran for 385 yards.

About the Roosevelt Roughriders

■ On a six-game winning streak.

■ Senior QB Spencer Urban has completed 43 of 96 passes for 786 yards with 6 TDs and 6 INTs.

■ Four players have more than 200 yards rushing: Randy Molinar (80 carries, 511 yards), Urban (78-356), Josh Semmier (47-280) and Dan Kammerell (43-219).

■ Senior WR Mark Rios has 30 receptions for 590 yards and 6 TDs.

About the Rifle Bears

■ Senior RB Ryan Moeller has 2,464 yards rushing on 210 carries with 35 TDs.

■ Junior RB Kellin Leigh has 909 yards rushing on 88 carries for a 10.33 average. He also had 10 TDs.

■ Senior QB Adam Rice has 512 yards passing, completing 29 of 56 passes with 8 TDs and 2 INTs.

■ Have allowed double-digits in a game once, a 52-13 win over Eagle Valley.

Coach Eastin says

On Rifle RB Ryan Moeller: “He’s a horse. Period. He runs fast, he’s powerful, breaks tackles, has good balance. He’s impressive.”

Coach Wells says

On staying healthy after 11 games: “I think we’re in as good of shape as you can hope for. I feel we’re pretty fortunate to get our kids off the field (against Erie). Our varsity kids played just one series into the fourth quarter, then were able to get off the field. It was really neat to be able to get some young kids some experience in the playoffs.”

No. 5 Pueblo East (9-2) at No. 13 Delta (8-3)

1 p.m. Saturday at Delta High School

The coaches

Pueblo East ­— David Ramirez. Delta — Ben Johnson

Last week

■ Pueblo East defeated Holy Family, 49-28, as Derion Ibarra rushed for 308 yards on 27 carries.

■ Delta downed The Classical Academy, 21-0, holding the Titans to 169 yards of total offense.

About the Pueblo East Eagles

■ Losses were to TCA, 37-33, and 29-19 to Discovery Canyon, a No. 2 seed that was upset last week by No. 15 Pueblo Central.

■ Senior RB Derion Ibarra has rushed for 1,207 yards on 192 carries with 16 TDs.

■ Junior QB Kurt Rode has completed 139 of 220 passes for 2,251 yards with 21 TDs and 7 INTs.

■ Junior WR Felix Mestas has caught 38 passes for 854 yards and 11 TDs.

■ Junior Joe DeTello has caught 31 passes for 395 yards and 2 TDs and has a team-high five INTs.

About the Delta Panthers

■ Losses were to Rifle, 21-0, Glenwood Springs, 41-20 and Montrose, 25-0.

■ Have posted consecutive shutout wins over Steamboat Springs and TCA.

■ Senior QB Mitchell Whiteside has completed 97 of 174 passes for 1,612 yards with 14 TDs and 6 INTs.

■ Senior RB Zach Decker has rushed for 950 yards on 147 carries with 6 TDs.

■ Senior RB Robert Williams has 411 yards on 78 carries with 8 TDs.

■ Have 1,705 yards receiving and 16 TDs, led by Chris Black (52 receptions, 986 yards, 9 TDs), Ryan Whiteside (21-413, 4 TDs) and Douglas Hawkins (10-108).

■ Leading tackler is junior MLB Cordell Stroud, who has 51 solo tackles and averages 8.6 tackles per game.

Coach Ramirez says

About Delta: “We had the opportunity to scout them, watching them play TCA, and they look like a team that plays pretty hard. You could tell they’re well-coached and play with discipline. When you get to this point in the season, all teams have good talent, but it’s those teams that fly to the ball and emphasize the little details that stand out. You could tell in the TCA game Delta definitely did those things real good.”

Coach Johnson says

About making 3A Western Slope League opponents proud: “I hope so. We’re trying to make the whole league proud. We cheer for each other until we have to play each other.”

Looking at the Class 3A football playoff bracket before the first-round games had been played, Delta coach Ben Johnson saw one team in particular that stood out — the No. 5 seed.

“The sleeper is Pueblo East,” Johnson said at the time. “They only had one loss all year, and that was to The Classical Academy.”

Yet Delta is the team that has snoozed from its No. 13 seed to a wide-awake reality in the quarterfinals. And the Panthers play Johnson’s sleeper pick, No. 5 Pueblo East (9-2), in the quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Saturday at Delta High School.

The Panthers (8-3) burst into the Class 3A top-10 rankings after a regular-season win over Palisade, then finished strong and made the playoffs. With a 21-0 win in the first round over No. 4 The Classical Academy last week, Delta finds itself one win away from a possible rematch with Rifle in the state semifinals.

Johnson said Delta may have surprised some teams — TCA to begin with.

“I think so,” he said. “We went to that Classical Academy, and you can sort of tell a team, when they look at you during warmups, if they honestly think they can beat you. I don’t think they thought we could be in the game.”

And although TCA didn’t have starting quarterback Jantzen Ryals, who had passed for 1,872 yards and 21 touchdowns, Delta limited TCA, which started freshman Austin Bervig at quarterback, to 167 yards of total offense.

Johnson said Delta’s defense began clicking against Palisade, then gained confidence when it limited Rifle to 21 points.

The Panthers have team speed, Johnson said, and are good tacklers, led by junior Cordell Stroud (8.6 tackles per game), senior Hunter Brasfield (4.1) and senior Robert Williams (7.9).

“In high school football you pretty much do tackling drills every day,” Johnson said. “Tackling is a mind-set, and it’s an aggressive attitude. (Our players) have it, and they want to be good tacklers. And we work on toughness. In a league where three teams are left out of eight in state, you better be tough, and you better be tackling well, or you’re not going to come out of your league.”

Pueblo East led TCA in the regular season by 21 points late in the game, East coach David Ramirez said, but gave up 21 points in 45 seconds and lost, 37-33.

East was 6-4 the past two seasons and on the cusp of qualifying for state. East had not qualified for state since 2008.

“We’d played some good football,” Ramirez said, “and I think at the time we were a little inconsistent as the season went on, so we wanted to shore that up this season.”

The Eagles are led by running back Derion Ibarra, who has 1,207 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns.

A challenge for Bears?

Eleven games into the season, and No. 1 seed Rifle still has not been involved in a game that was close in the final quarter.

Maybe No. 8 Roosevelt (7-4), the team that knocked No. 9 Palisade out of the playoffs last week, can provide the Bears (11-0) some prime competition.

The teams play the quarterfinal 1 p.m. Saturday at Rifle High School.

Rifle can run, pass when needed, and its defense, which has six shutouts, has proved to be one of the state’s best. And then there’s one of the state top running backs, Ryan Moeller.

“This isn’t going to be a walk in the park,” Roosevelt coach Noland Eastin said. “Just a straight up dogfight. For us to have any opportunity, we have to play solid.”

So where is the balance between showing the Bears respect and not fearing them? Remembering their humanity, for one.

“They put their pants on one leg at a time, too,” Eastin said. “You’ve got to respect opponents, especially a great team like Rifle, but the game of football does not reward for cowardice or doubt.”

Palisade coach John Arledge, before the Bulldogs’ 21-15 loss to the Roughriders, called Roosevelt tough and aggressive, high praise from a coach who preaches those same qualities to his own players.

Can Roosevelt slow Moeller? Roosevelt’s defense seems to be more prone to the pass than the run. For example, in a 52-20 win over Centaurus in September, Roosevelt allowed quarterback David Shaid 347 yards passing and three touchdowns. But Roosevelt allowed only nine total yards rushing.

Likewise, in a 21-14 regular-season win over Silver Creek, which still is alive in the playoffs, Roosevelt limited the Raptors to 50 yards rushing, yet allowed 190 yards passing and two touchdowns.

If there is a challenge for Rifle and its ground game that averages 368 yards per game (224 by Moeller), this could be it.

Oh, Rifle defeated Roosevelt, 14-7, last season in the first round of the state playoffs.

“They were tough; very physical,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “They’re similar now; they have many kids back just like we do. I thought they were a tough team last year, and they’re even better this year.”


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