WALSENBURG-The John Mall Panthers exploded for five second-quarter touchdowns and demolished the Custer County Bobcats 42-0 to close out their season on a positive note. This was the most points the Cats have put up since the 2001 season and their first shut-out of an opponent in nine years. It was also parents’ day which made the victory more meaningful. According to Cindy Wiggins, mother of Jacob, “it is so exciting to see them out there playing so well.” Well is an understatement. They played with precision, executing their game plan almost flawlessly.
On the Panthers’ first drive, quarterback Charlie Whitehead took his team downfield with the experience of a seasoned player. Their first drive was kept alive when Coach Berger gambled early on a fourth and one from the Panther 29-yard line. On a quarterback sneak, Whitehead drove two yards for the first down. Facing another fourth-down situation at the 34-yard line, the Panthers elected to punt. A high snap and pressure from the Bobcat linebackers forced Whitehead to scramble. He ran the ball 35 yards for the first down, keeping the drive alive. The Panthers continued to march down field into the red zone but fumbled the ball at the 1-yard line and the Bobcats recovered in the end zone for the touchback.
Custer County took over to begin their first drive of the quarter. The Panther defense was unrelenting as they forced a punt on a fourth and twelve. Clayton Archuleta took the punt and returned it 45 yards to the Bobcat 20. On the next play, the Panthers fumbled the ball right back to the Bobcats. The defense once again came to task, stopping the drive to end the quarter.
Archuleta took the punt to begin the second quarter and returned it 56 yards for the score. The point after was good and the John Mall Panthers were on the boards. The only real threat from the Bobcats came on the next drive when Zach Flinn took the ball around the end for a 65-yard scramble only to be caught from behind by Whitehead off a shoestring touchdown-saving tackle. This would be Custer County’s only trip into the red zone. The defense came alive again and took over on downs after a fourth and eight failed to convert. For the day, the Bobcats went zero and five on third- and fourth-down conversions. The Panther defense only allowed two first downs all day and forced three fumbles and one interception.
The Panther offense was as spectacular as the defense. Dylan Tenorio scored the Cats’ second touchdown, a 40-yard run up the middle. After the ensuing kickoff, the Panthers’ Brian Aguirre recovered a fumble at the 40-yard line, giving Whitehead and the offense a short field to work with. Jacob Wiggins and Archuleta kept the ball and drive alive with well-executed runs. Archuleta capped off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown. By now, the Cats were ahead 21-0 with 5:53 remaining in the half. The Panthers’ fourth score of the quarter came when Whitehead intercepted a Mark Canda pass and retuned it 52 yards for the score with 59 ticks left in the half.
The Panthers once again stopped the Bobcat drive forcing their third fumble of the day on their own 40-yard line. Archuleta ran the ball to the 31-yard line with time running out. With one second remaining in the half, Whitehead scrambled out of the pocket and threw up a WHOW-Mary pass into the end zone. The ball was tipped off Archuleta right into the hands of Wiggins for the score. By half, the Panthers led 35-0. Archuleta scored his fourth touchdown of the game off a 4-yard run with 2:08 remaining in the game.
This was the first home victory for the Panthers in twelve games dating back to Oct. 13, 2006. The Panthers defeated Las Animas under then head coach, Ken Berger. The seniors on today’s team were freshmen and today’s victory is sweet. While the game had no relevant meaning for the season, it served as a stepping stone into the next year and gave a sense of accomplishment. This is a young team and coach Berger expects great things to happen next year. They have learned the system and have improved every week this year.
The seniors on the team this year include Clayton Archuleta, Jeremiah Hill, Austin Jackson and exchange student Toshi Otake. The Journal would also like to recognize managers Vallery Purnell, Matt Reyna and Melissa Mestas. High atop the press box was the video filmmaker, Josh Galindo. On the sidelines were coaches Ken Berger, Mike Whitehead, Dave McGraw, David Harriman, James Vigil and Ricardo Bobian.