by David Tesitor
WALSENBURG- The Panthers’ homecoming victory over the Rocky Ford Meloneers left a sweet taste in the mouths of the fans. They saw the explosive Panthers dominate a bigger Rocky Ford team 26-0 to remain in the running for a league title.
Going into Friday’s game, the Panthers led the league in points scored per game. The added 26 points kept them atop the league in scoring, which is critical if there is a tie for the league title.
The Panthers took the opening kickoff and began a well-executed drive starting at the 24-yard line. Zac Harriman ran for twenty yards on the second play of the game, giving the Cats field position at the 44. Following a third and five, Panther quarterback, Clayton Berger scrambled out of the pocket around the right for 28 yards and a first down. Andre Ortiz took the next hand-off for 3, but a personal foul on Rocky put the ball on the Meloneer 12-yard line. Four plays later, Harriman punched the ball in the end zone for the score. Jordon Bobian’s point after gave the Cats an early 7-0 lead.
The tenacious Panther defense held the Meloneers’ first possession to three and out, forcing a punt. The Panthers’ next drive ended in a fumble, but again the defense did their job forcing the punt. It was a back-and-forth struggle, until Harriman took the ball 65 yards for the Panthers’ second score of the night with 11 minutes remaining in the half. Both teams continued to stop their opponents and by half, John Mall led 14-0.
In the third quarter both teams struggled offensively. Both teams attempted to move the ball and on two occasions, turned the ball over on downs. The lackluster offense continued into the fourth until after a Rocky Ford punt to the 25. With 11 minutes on the clock, Berger executed one of the season’s best time-management drives, taking the ball 75 yards in eight minutes for the Panther score, putting the nail in the Meloneers’ coffin.
It began with a 3-yard run by Ortiz, then an 8-yard run by Dylan Tenorio. A loss of 5 yards gave the Cats a second and fifteen. Tenorio then took the ball 11 yards. A Rocky Ford offside penalty kept the drive alive at the 47. The Panthers continued to drive the ball, and on a fourth and one, Ortiz took the ball for 10 to the Rocky Ford 30-yard line with 5:12 on the game clock. Tenorio became the workhorse at this point, taking the ball for 8, 3 and finally an 8-yard scramble for the touchdown with 2:42 on the clock.
Rocky Ford had one last attempt to make something happen, but the Panther defense held to the task, stopping Rocky’s charge for a late-game comeback. John Mall took over on downs at the 31. Ortiz added one more score off a 24-yard touchdown run with a minute remaining in the game.
Only three games remain in the season. The Cats need those final three games and hope Crowley County defeats Custer County when they play the last week of the season. The road to league begins on the road as the Panthers travel to Las Animas tomorrow.
They will then travel to Crowley in a must-win game. A victory over the Chargers will likely determine the championship because head-to-head competition is key to any tiebreakers in crowning the conference championship. The Cats will finish out the season in Rye. The Thunderbolts, last season’s champions, have struggled this season and are winless.