by David Tesitor
WALSENBURG- The John Mall Panthers football team fell to the number-two team in the state last weekend to close out their regular season, 43-21. The Panthers gave up a touchdown on the opening kickoff when T-Bolt Jordon Haley went 80 yards for the score.
The quick score did not dampen the Panther spirit. They held the Bolts offensively for most of the first half. Rye managed to score late in the first. They executed a short field score when Ty Van Ort connected with Mike Ortiz for a 15-yard touchdown strike. Rye scored again off a broken coverage play on a 70-yard strike from Van Ort to Levi Starkwood. Rye went for two and took a 22-0 lead over the Panthers.
John Mall got on the board late in the second quarter after the defense stopped the T-Bolts on a fourth-and-five pass which was intercepted at the Thunderbolt thirty-eight. It took three plays for Charlie Whitehead to connect to Jacob Wiggins on a 55-yard strike, made possible by several blocks down the sidelines. The point after was good and the Cats trailed 22-7. A last minute drive and dropped Hail Mary pass in the end zone ended the half with the Panthers still very much alive.
Rye′s opening drive in the second half resulted in an 87-yard touchdown run by Billy Jack Forell. The Thunderbolts led by a score of 29-7 and still the Panther defense kept the Cats in the game. On Rye′s next series, Panther Stuart Pino recovered a fumble on the Cat’s 30-yard line, stopping an apparent T-Bolt drive. John Mall then executed a 62-yard drive capped off by an 18-yard quarterback keeper. The Panthers trailed midway in the third, 29-14.
The Bolts’ next drive began at the 20. From the third play from scrimmage, Forrell broke for another 66-yard strike putting the nails in the coffin for the Panthers. Both teams managed to score once again to end the game, but by then, it was too late for the Panthers.
If you consider the four long broken plays for touchdowns and the 29 points scored, the Panthers’ defense played an outstanding game. JP Vigil had ten tackles while Wiggins and Jacob Pino each had nine. The Thunderbolts won off the speed of Forell and the missed assignments of the Panther defense.
Offensively, the Panthers had a good afternoon. Whitehead went 7 for 18 and 147 yards for 2 touchdowns and 2 picks. Dylan Tenorio had five receptions for 66 yards and a score. He also had 13 carries for 66 yards. Andre Ortiz had 15 carries for 53 yards.
The Panthers’ performance was good enough to earn them a bid in the playoffs starting Saturday. (See related story page 13).