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Panthers open season with loss

by David Tesitor
DEL NORTE — The John Mall Panthers took their their number-11 preseason state ranking to Del Norte to face the Tigers in a non-conference game to open their 2012 season, losing 56-9.
The Panthers faced a stronger Tiger team and were out-manned at the line as three from the Panthers’ starting line were out with injuries, forcing the team to make adjustments to their play.
The Tigers scored first and never relinquished the lead. They then stopped the Panthers’ opening drive forcing a fourth and ten. On the ensuing punt, the Tigers blocked the ball to give them excellent field position. Del Norte took advantage of the short field position to score on their second possession to take an early 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Brandon Bechaver’s efforts to move the ball were stopped by the Tiger defense and the inability of the smaller, younger line to contain Del Norte’s behemoths. By the end of the first, the Panthers were trailing by three scores.
Midway into the second quarter, the Panthers began their drive with their best field position at the thirty-nine yard line, but went three and out before Jordon Bobian punted a 58-yard monster kick, driving the Tigers deep inside their own territory and forcing their longest drive of the day.
It was the motivation the Panthers needed as the Cats held Del Norte to three and out, forcing the punt where the Panthers took over from midfield. Two plays later, Bechaver scrambled to the 25-yard line. The stingy Tiger defense still denied the Panthers opportunity to score, and with a fourth and five from the twenty, Bechaver dropped back to pass and connected with Kylan Estrada for eleven and a first and goal. The Panthers were unable to reach the promised land and settled for a 15-yard Bobian field goal with 3:13 remaining in the half to make the score 28-3.
John Mall executed once again before the half ended when Michael Griego forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff giving the Panthers another short field to work with. After an incomplete pass, Bechaver found the left end open and took the ball inside the five-yard line for first and goal.
Four plays later, Bechaver connected with Griego for the score. The extra point was blocked and left Griego lying on the ground holding his neck. One of two new rules in high school football protects the center on snaps to kickers. It states that when the center’s head is down, the player cannot be touched or blocked. Del Norte flattened Griego, but the foul went uncalled.
While there were calls not made on both sides of the ball, this was the most grievous missed call. The second rule states that if for any reason the helmet comes off the player’s head, (unless it was because of an illegal face mask call) that player must exit the field for one play. The half ended with Del Norte scoring, and as the half came to a close, they took a commanding 34-9 lead.
As the second half began, Griego, who stepped in for an injured Brandon Bechaver, took over at the quarterback position. Just as in the first half, the smaller Panthers had trouble containing the Tigers and gave up two more scores in the quarter before the 40-point, running-clock rule applied.
There were several key moments for the Panthers in their loss. They were able to use their speed to bring down Tiger speedsters Michael Martinez and Austin McDonald with come-from-behind open-field tackles, penetrate the line for a few sacks, block punts and close the gaps on several plays. Their fatigue and short bench was evident as players performed duties on both offense and defense.
The Panthers played to the final buzzer and never gave up, showing their tenacity and ambition to have an outstanding season.
The game was originally scheduled as an evening game but was rescheduled to a day game because, according to Tiger athletic director, Tom Cliff, “we are having transformer problems.” They didn’t even have lights on the poles and will not likely have them for the remainder of the season.
During the game, Bechaver completed 3 of 8 passes with one interception and one touchdown to Griego, a five-yard strike. He also rushed for 32 yards. Griego threw one incomplete pass and rushed for 19 yards. J. P. Vigil rushed for 15, Estrada for 10 and Shane Bobian rushed for 5. On defense, J. P. Vigil had 8 tackles, Griego 6 (including 1 sack), and Anthony Ortiz got to the quarterback twice.
John Mall will host Center tomorrow night at 7 pm in a non-conference game. The Vikings lost their opening game to Salida 28-13. The Panthers will face Salida later this season for homecoming in conference play.