GLENWOOD SPRINGS (11/16/13) — Three yards. Just nine feet to extend a marvelous season with their red-clad, face-painted fans exhorting them to push that final distance, the Glenwood Demons came up short in their 3A Quarterfinal rematch with the Delta Panthers, 13-9, under gray and rainy skies at Stubler Field Saturday.
Back when the eight game winning streak that brought them to the brink of the state semifinals had barely begun, coach Rocky Whitworth said of the Panthers, “They could be as good as anyone we’ve played.” This assessment, coming after season-opening losses to Conifer, Palisade, and Rifle — three teams that ultimately reached these same state playoffs, but of them all, only Delta still stands, moving on to play Silver Creek next weekend, proving Whitworth a disappointed, yet proud prophet.
His team, which was 1-3 when last it met and defeated the Panthers, 15-7 on September 27, had several chances to do so again. None better than a first down at the Delta 11-yard line with 1:47 remaining in a sloppy, penalty-marred contest that featured 14 punts — seven by each side.
The last punt exchange came out in Glenwood’s favor as Chase Nieslanik pinned the Panthers to their ten yard line with a booming 55 yarder. A big 3rd-and-4 hit on Jonny Ponce by Derrick Chase forced Delta’s 6-6 quarterback and punter to kick from his 17. Henry Hill returned it 16 yards to the Panther 38 with just under four minutes left in the game and Delta leading 13-9.
Travis Lundin began what seemed to everyone on the home-field side to be a game-winning drive with a five yard completion to Cole Adams. Then a procedure call, the ninth flag on the Demons in the game, pushed them back five, but Chase got seven on a counter left and Hill bulled his way ten yards to the 21. After a loss of one, Lundin, finding no one open, dumped a safety pass to Chase good for 10 yards and the senior fullback plunged up the middle for the first down to the 11.
With an opportunity for another first down at the one, the inevitable moved closer when Hill got around right end for seven more to the four yard line, where Glenwood called time out with 1:32 left. Chase slipped on the next play for no gain, and Whitworth called his second time out — exactly one minute remained on the clock.
The Demons tried the middle again with Chase, who had scored seven short-yardage touchdowns in similar situations this season, but he gained just one, bringing up 4th-and-two at the three yard line. Hill, with more than 1,700 yards and 14 touchdowns this year, including a 22-yard screen pass in the third quarter, was the logical choice and the last hope to keep Glenwood’s playoff hopes alive. But sophomore linebacker Kelby Brown, who had been living in the Demon backfield all day, again got penetration with his right-side teammates and the play was stacked up for a two-yard loss.
The ball then went over to Gafford and the Panthers, and the junior quarterback ran out the final 15 seconds on the Glenwood season. Incredibly, Gafford, who had passed for 1,900 yards and 23 TDs with only 3 interceptions, was held without a completion until the last play of the third quarter — and that one was intercepted by Justin Barham at the Delta 25, but the referees ruled Devin Williams had wrestled it away from him as they fell to the ground.
And after the 5-6 Ponce, who had been held to 68 yards on 18 carries in the teams’ first meeting, inexplicably broke off tackle for a 37-yard touchdown on a flag-aided opening drive of the game, and closed the quarter with a 59-yard explosion down the right sideline, Delta disappeared offensively. They would gain just 71 yards in 28 running plays — and just the one 15-yard pass completion — aside from those two long scoring plays. But it would be enough because Glenwood could net just three points from two first-half drives that gained six first downs, but left the Demons down 13-3 at the end of the first quarter, and at the half.
Glenwood continually found itself in third-and-long situations in the third quarter, unable to convert until Hill took a screen pass to the end zone on 3rd and 7 from Delta’s 22. The Demon senior had set up that score, returning Gafford’s punt 30 yards to the Panther 30. Despite finishing with over 100 yards (112 on 35 carries) for the ninth consecutive game, Hill never really found running room, managing just three plays of 10 yards or more on the increasingly soggy field as rain fell, and Panther defenders swarmed him all game long.
After Delta, helped by a pass-interference, then face mask call, scored on the opening possession, AB Ontiveros’s point after try was wide left for a 6-0 lead, 9:51 into the game. Following an exchange of punts that gave Glenwood possession at the Delta 41, the Demons took 5:31 to reach first and goal at the nine, but three running plays actually lost 4 yards and Robert Hiles closed the gap to 6-3 with a 30 yard field goal at 1:33.
Ponce gained a first down in two tries to his own 41 before breaking free for his second touchdown with 43 ticks left on the first-quarter clock. This time the extra point was good, and that would end the Panther scoring for the contest.
Another pair of punt exchanges opened the second quarter before Hill ran for three first-downs, moving Glenwood from its 20 into Panther territory, but his next two tries netted just two yards and a third-down incompletion, Lundin’s first of the game in five attempts, forced a punt from the Delta 44. The Demon defense again stopped Ponce, who was the only Panther aside from Gafford to touch the ball so far, and Hill returned the punt 28 yards to the Delta 22. However a clipping penalty moved the ball back to the 38. Then a helmet tackle moved Glenwood back to the 22. Delta held Hill to 3 yards on 2 carries, before the shotgun snap flew by Lundin, with the Panthers recovering at their 42.
Surprisingly, Delta did not take a shot downfield, though 1:30 remained, and ran the clock out, content with its 13-3 halftime lead.
After Glenwood closed the margin to four points on Hill’s screen pass reception, Chris Sarabia recovered Saul Sanchez’ fumble on the kick return, giving the Demons the ball at the Panther 28. Hill’s first-down carry went nowhere, and Glenwood was called for holding on his next attempt, pushing the ball back to the 39. A two-yard run by Hill and a third-down incompletion resulted in another missed opportunity, as the Demons elected to punt from the Panther 37.
Following Barham’s near interception that resulted in a first-down for Delta at their 25, the Panthers finally gave the ball to someone besides Ponce, and fullback Tyler Sandoval carried twice for a first down at the 35, but a procedure penalty and two short gains by Ponce began a series punt exchanges, ending with the Demons’ season-ending drive.
To have started 0-and-3 for the second straight year, and then put together eight straight wins, only to have the dream die at the 3-yard line, had to be a shock for this team that had begun to see destiny looming ahead. Yet the 8-4 season was a praiseworthy accomplishment for the nine seniors who broke free from back-to-back 5-5 records to gain a place among the 3A final eight teams. Playing their last game for the red-and-white were Adams, who led the receiving core with 280 yards on 24 catches, Lundin — 9-for-12 for 80 yards against Delta, and throwing for 8 TD passes with only one interception in his last 7 games, after starting the year with 6 picks in the first 3 losses, Sarabia, Colton Vail, Garrett Lowe, Brandon Flores, Hill, who finished with 1702 yards, going over the 1,000 mark for the third straight season, Chase and Barham.
Glenwood has promising 6-3, 215 freshman Dante Sparaco, who started on defense all year and scored three touchdowns in back-up duty, waiting in the wings at quarterback. Junior Evrett Marr, whose 26 catches and 3 TD’s led the receivers, also returns, along with a good offensive line core of center Sam Carmer, guard Cristian Gonzalez, and tackles Tristan Harris, Nieslanik and Hiles. The last time the Demons ended a season so unexpectedly was 2007 when they were upset in the first round by Sterling, and they followed with the glorious, undefeated championship year of 2008.