by David Tesitor
WALSENBURG — The John Mall Panthers hosted the Custer County Bobcats last Friday evening in an explosive offensive display, but it was the Bobcats who walked away with the 30-29 victory.
The Panthers’ chance to win fell short after a sweep to the left side of the line with seconds remaining was read well by the Bobcat defense, stopping the rusher short of victory.
John Mall’s last two series of plays in the game were not without controversy. After the Panthers took a 29-22 lead midway in the fourth quarter, Custer County’s Casey Nordyke took the ball from the Bobcat 34-yard line and broke free around the right side of the line for a 66-yard touchdown scamper, his longest run from scrimmage of the night. Custer opted for the two-point conversion giving Custer a 30-29 point lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, JP Vigil returned the ball to the 26-yard line, but a personal foul brought the ball back to the ten, digging the Panthers deeper in the hole. An 18-yard run by Shawn Bobian followed by a 17-yard run by Dylan Tenorio put the Panthers back into the game at their own 45.
A thirdand long play of sixteen yards put the Panthers in a great scoring position. The Panthers continued to move the ball well as Michael Ryan Griego’s reception put the ball at the 21, but a holding call brought the ball back. A second holding call put the Panthers at midfield. Facing a fourth and long, a fake punt followed by a Brandon Bechaver pass was picked off at the 20, almost dashing all hopes for a Panther comeback, giving Custer the ball with 4:47 remaining in the game.
Custer relied on their power horses, the Nordyke brothers, Casey and Corey, to run out the clock, but the Panther defense came alive to stop the pair in their first three attempts to keep the drive alive. Facing a fourth and inches from their own 29, Custer County opted to run, giving the ball to Casey who took the ball for six yards which kept the clock running at 2:48.
The Panthers held on during the next two plays, forcing and recovering a fumble at midfield, but the field judge called the ball back stating there was an inadvertent whistle and returning the ball back to the Bobcats. On the next play, Griego intercepted the ball and ran it back to the 33. A block- to-the-back penalty on the Panthers started their drive at the 47 with 38 seconds on the clock.
The Panthers threw two incomplete passes as time was winding down. Bechaver finally connected with Griego at the 6-yard line with 8.9 seconds remaining. The coach’s decision to kick the winning field goal or run for the touchdown came down to several options according to Coach Mike Whitehead.
The Panthers’ usual field goal and extra point kicker Jordon Bobian did not suit up because of an injury. The decision was made to run the ball. According to Whitehead, “I believed in what we did and the play we called. I thought we could score. We had several good options and I decided to run.” The sweep to the left side of the field, which had worked throughout the night, fell short at the goal line, ending the Panthers’ last second come back from behind.
For the night, Bechaver went 10 for 19 passing for 220 yards and one TD. He also rushed for 86 yards. His favorite receiver was Griego who caught six passes for 157 yards. S. Bobian caught two for 57 yards. On the ground, Dylan Tenorio rushed for 62 yards and JP Vigil ran for 44 and a score. The Panthers struggled offensively in the first quarter, with only 24 total yards but picked up the tempo later with 448 total yards.
On defense, Vigil led all tackling with 19, Kylan Estrada with 15, and Anthony Ortiz with 12 (all came in the first half). Griego had 7 with two fourth-quarter interceptions. The Panthers travel to Colorado Springs Christian Academy for league action Friday, Sept. 28.