PUEBLO — When thinking back to its first state football championship game since 1961, Delta is going to point out missed opportunities.
And there were plenty of those to go around.
A 10-point lead that should have been more.
A defensive breakdown on a trick play.
An odd-looking interception caused by quick penetration from the opposing defensive line.
If any one of those things play out differently, the result Saturday — which saw Sterling defeat Delta 27-19 to claim the Class 2A title — likely has a very different story coming with it.
"The wind was blowing so hard that we did something (to start the game) different," Delta coach Ben Johnson said. "We chose to kick off with the wind. We knew our defense could get stops and we thought we could get a lot of points out of it."
He was right about half of everything he said. The defense came up big. With the winds howling through the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl, Sterling struggled to get any offense moving in the first quarter.
Hunter Hughes picked off Tigers quarterback Brock Shalla on the second play of the game and the Panthers (11-2) got three points off that turnover thanks to a 37-yard field goal by Ku La Moo.
The next three drives, the Tigers (12-1) faced fourth downs and opted not to punt. They turned the ball over on downs each time, but Delta couldn't capitalize.
The Panthers finally found the end zone on the first play of the second quarter as Nolan Bynum found a wide open Nathan Workman for a 20-yard touchdown pass. The lead was 10-0 and all was going well.
At least until Sterling dipped into its bag of tricks.
A flea-flicker from Shalla to Peyton Rose went for 58 yards and the first Sterling score on the game.
"I thought our momentum was taken away," Johnson said. "We had them right where we wanted them. We were up 10-0 and they weren't moving the ball."
That score seemed to change everything. On the next possession, Sterling senior Drew Book broke through the offensive line and knocked a Bynum pass down into his own hands. He returned it for the touchdown to turn what was a 10-0 Delta lead into a 14-10 ball game for Sterling.
"There were a lot of missed opportunities," Bynum said. "Football is a team game, but I take responsibility for a lot of those. It didn't turn out the way we wanted it to."
After a scoreless third quarter, the Panthers regained a little momentum. A bad snap on 4th down resulted in a safety, pulling Delta within two. Then a 31-yard pass from Bynum to Hughes got the Panthers into the red zone with a chance to take the lead. A 13-yard run by Moo set up Gauge Lockhart's touchdown run to give Delta a 19-14 edge with 9:34 left in the game.
But a Sterling offense that had trouble moving down the field all day did just that on the next drive and Shalla's touchdown run put the Tigers back up 20-19. A deflected ball on an option pitch got scooped up by Rose and returned for a touchdown to put the finishing touches on the Tigers' first football championship in school history.
"We had to get a stop," Johnson said outside of a silent Delta locker room. "That was the big point of the game."
Cherry Creek 14, Pomona 7: The Bruins (13-0) forced four turnovers, including John Adams' clinching interception with 1:22 to play. Cherry Creek will play Columbine, who beat Ralston Valley on Friday night in next Saturday's title game at Empower Field at Mile High.
Broomfield 17, Dakota Ridge 15: Matthew Eich kicked a 25 yard field goal to send the Eagles into next week's state title game at Empower Field at Mile High. Broomfield (13-0) converted three fourth downs on its winning drive.
Pine Creek 34, Pueblo West 0: David Moore III ran for 269 yards as the Eagles (13-0) blanked the Cyclones. Pine Creek will be playing for its first state title since 2016, when it beat Broomfield 36-14.
Pueblo South 28, Frederick 24: Logan Petit's 12-yard touchdown pass to Jackson Dickerson on fourth down with 15.7 seconds to play lifted the Colts (12-1) past the Warriors (11-2). Dickerson finished with 141 yards receiving in the win.
Palmer Ridge 42, Green Mountain 21: Quarterback Raef Ruel ran for more than 200 yards and four TDs to lead two-time defending champion Bears (11-2) back into title game.
Limon 26, Strasburg 13: Kory Tacha accounted for three touchdowns, two rushing, one receiving, to lead the Badgers (11-2) to their second straight state title and record 18th overall. Tacha finished with 125 yards rushing and 109 yards receiving in the win.
Class A-8 Man
Sedgwick County 44, Flagler 6: Beau Parker ran for 242 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Cougars (13-0) to their record fifth straight 8-man title.