by David Tesitor
WALSENBURG- The John Mall High School Panthers lost to the Custer County Bobcats 26-21, giving the Panthers their second loss of the season and their first conference defeat.
The Panthers’ offense took the field to open the game but the drive fell short, forcing the Cats to punt the ball where the Bobcats took over at their own 34-yard line.
On the first play from scrimmage, Bobcat Scott Peters threw the first of three interceptions. Brandon Vigil returned the ball 33 yards to the Bobcat 23. Following a sack and a one-yard gain, Jacob Wiggins took the ball around the end for 22 yards and a Panther first and goal from the eight. Two plays later, Andre Ortiz drove the ball in for the score. After a Jordan Bobian kick, the Panthers led 7-0 with 8:08 remaining in the first quarter.
On the Bobcat ensuing drive, Peters drove his team to the Panther 32 before Wiggins came up with his first pick on the night. The Panthers were unable to capitalize on the turnover and were forced to punt the ball. Both teams traded possessions as the quarter ended.
The Panthers’ next scoring opportunity began off a well-executed drive made up of a series of runs and passes, including a strike to MichaelRyan Griego which gave the Panthers a first and goal from the eight. Following a personal foul, the drive was completed on a 19-yard run by Zac Harriman up the middle to give the Panthers a 14-0 lead.
Custer County came roaring back as kickoff receiver Zac Flynn took the kickoff 85 yards to the promised land, sparking hope in the Bobcat offense and bringing them within eight.
John Mall’s next drive almost ended in disaster when a bad snap from center was recovered by the Bobcats. A penalty on the play kept the ball in Panther hands. Facing a fourth and twenty, the Cats were forced to punt. The defense came alive again stopping Custer from executing another drive. After a series of punts, the Panthers had one last opportunity to put the game out of reach when Harriman intercepted a Peter’s pass and ran the ball back to the Bobcat 38-yard line with 41 seconds remaining. A pass from Panther quarterback Clayton Berger to Griego at the 17 gave the Panthers new hope.
Berger’s next pass was intercepted in the end zone and returned to the 18-yard line. With four seconds remaining, Scott Peterson raced down the sideline for 56 yards only to be brought down by a touchdown-saving tackle to end the half with a score of 14-6.
The second half belonged to the Bobcats and Peters. The Panther defense could not contain the running ability of Peters and Flynn who combined for over 250 yards on the ground. The Bobcats scored three unanswered touchdowns before the Panthers would hit pay dirt late in the game.
John Mall executed a well-planned drive and scored midway in the fourth to make the score 26-21. A strong defensive stand on the next series of plays gave John Mall the ball back and a chance to win the game, but a Berger pass fell into the hands of a Bobcat receiver, ending the comeback attempt.
After the game, Berger said, “as always Custer County was a lot bigger than us. We had a difficult time stopping the running game.” For the game, the Bobcats only attempted four passes and the Panthers intercepted three.
The Panthers also fielded several players who were coming off injuries and were not playing at 100 percent. According to Berger, “we have many players that were injured going into the game and we sustained more injuries during the game. It is tough this time of the season when you have guys hurting because there is no time to really heal from your injuries.”
Tomorrow night, the Panthers host the Rocky Ford Meloneers in a must win league game. The Meloneers are coming off a decisive 33-0 romping of the Rye Thunderbolts. A victory will keep their league title hopes alive. A loss will set the program back.
Berger commented on the Cats’ next opponent, “they are a bigger team than Custer, and they love to run the ball behind that massive offensive line. We must stop that running game if we are going to have a chance against Rocky Ford. It’s gut check time for us; if we want to be league champions, then we need to step it up against Rocky Ford this week.”