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Panthers Jolt Thunderbolts

by David Tesitor
RYE- The Panthers from John Mall showed their community, their fans and their school they are for real as they traveled to Rye and defeated the Thunderbolts 21-10.
This was the first time the Cats defeated the Bolts on home turf since 1979. The last time the Panthers defeated Rye was in 1984 in Walsenburg. The victory was good enough for the CHSAA selection committee to take notice and choose John Mall as the 16th seed in this weekend’s playoff action, shocking the second-place Custer County Bobcats who were shut out of the post-season action. (see related story)
As has been the case all season, the Panther defense was outsized as they squared up against the Bolts. Still, the Panthers were able to contain Rye Seniors Ty Van Oort and Gage Berger (Coach Berger’s nephew). The John Mall Panther defense held the Thunderbolts on their first four possessions in the first quarter. The cold weather caused problems for both teams as the players struggled on their second possessions, turning the ball over on missed handoffs.
On the Panthers’ third possession, the Cats were driving the ball inside Rye territory when Clayton Berger left the game after reinjuring his ankle. Back-up QB, Brandon Vigil came in.
Vigil’s first play from scrimmage netted a 21- yard scramble giving the Cats a first and ten at the Thunderbolt 33-yard line. Dylan Tenorio then ran up the middle for four, keeping the momentum alive. On third and seven, Vigil was dropped for an 8-yard loss, bringing up fourth and fifteen. Following the punt, Rye took over on the 20. On the second play, Van Oort went back to pass and threw the ball into Jacob Wiggin’s open hands and the Panther senior returned the ball to the 9 as the quarter ended.
During the break, acting head coach Joe
Hibpshman motivated his players by saying, “Remember Crowley…Two times inside the ten, not tonight boys, not tonight. All you have to do is execute.” With the expert precision of a red-zone offense, Vigil took the ball for two. A facemask penalty gave the Panthers a first and goal at the two. Three plays later, on a fourth and one, it was ‘tonight’ as Vigil rolled out and connected with MichaelRyan Griego for the score. Jordon Bobian’s kick was good and the Panthers took the early lead 7-0 at the 10:45 mark in the second.
They never looked back. The Thunderbolts’ only score in the half came when a bad snap to the John Mall punter was fumbled inside the 7-yard line. The Panthers’ goal-line defense kept the Bolts out of the end zone and allowed only a field goal with 3:01 remaining.
John Mall began their next drive at Rye’s 31 where they executed a 69-yard drive for the score. On the drive, Andre Ortiz ran for 11, Wiggins for 13 and Tenorio for 45, culminating the drive with a 6-yard run for the score. The PAT was good as the Panthers took a 14-3 lead into the half.
The cold continued to create ball-control problems on the ground for both teams as the third quarter began. The Bolts’ only successful drive came midway in the third quarter as Van Oort and Berger ran through the defense for their only touchdown in the game.
The final quarter saw strong defensive play for both teams. Rye had the ball as Van Oort ran to midfield for the first and ten and a personal foul after the play was called against the Panthers, taking the ball to the 37. The ensuing play, a no-gainer, was negated by a second consecutive personal foul, ejecting the Panther from the game.
With the Bolts in striking distance and seemingly moving the ball, the Panther ‘D’ came alive by sacking Van Oort on a fourth and five. The Panthers took over on the 36, but after two plays a fumble gave the ball back to Rye with 7:22 remaining. Again the defense did their job, stopping the Thunderbolts on a fourth and inches on the fourteen.
With the game on the line, Coach Hibpshman went for it on fourth and one inside their own territory. The hard call by Vigil drew the offside penalty, giving the Panthers time to work the clock. The victory was sealed when Ortiz broke free and ran 51 yards for the Panthers’ final score, securing the victory and keeping open the Panther’s post-season hopes.
In their victory, the coaching staff did an incredible job of play calling and motivating their team to focus. Hipbshman was sporting Coach Berger’s jacket and commented, “This is my silent protest.” It also motivated the team to victory.
Leading tacklers were Harriman with 8.5 and JP Vigil with 8. Andre Ortiz and Tenorio also had 1 sack apiece.