Class 3A football playoffs: Hungry Panthers on deck for Demons
DELTA AT GLENWOOD SPRINGS
What: Quarterfinal round of the Class 3A state playoffs
When: 1 p.m. today
Where: Stubler Memorial Field, Glenwood Springs
On the air: KMTS-FM (99.1 Glenwood Springs, 99.5 Rifle, 95.5 Carbondale). Pregame begins at 12:30 p.m.
How they got here: Glenwood Springs (8-3), the 12th seed in the 16-team bracket and the third-place finisher in the Western Slope League, earned a 14-13, first-round victory over fifth-seeded Elizabeth on Nov. 9. Delta, the 13th seed and the fourth-place finisher in the WSL, beat fourth-seeded Holy Family, 42-41, in the first round.
Quotable: “I’ve been praising this league for a long time because we play some very good football here. We end up with some low seeds because we beat each other up during the season, but we’ve proven how good this league is.” — Ben Johnson, Delta’s football coach on the strength of the 3A WSL. Three of this season’s eight remaining 3A state playoff teams were from the WSL.
What’s next: The winner of today’s quarterfinal will play the winner between No. 16-seeded Pueblo East (7-4) and No. 9 seed Silver Creek. East reached the state semifinals last season, and Silver Creek is the defending Class 3A state champion.
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Just because the Glenwood Springs High School football team has already beaten the Delta Panthers this season doesn’t mean the Demons will take them for granted today.
“It’s extremely difficult to beat a team twice in one season,” Glenwood Springs senior running back Henry Hill said. “We also know that they’re going to come out hungry and fired up, so we have to be ready and even more fired up than they are.”
The hunger that has likely built up since late September is courtesy of the Demons’ 15-7 victory. That win not only was part of the Demons’ current eight-game winning streak, but it made the difference in Glenwood finishing ahead of Delta in the Class 3A Western Slope League standings.
And the Demons (8-3), the No. 12 seed in the 3A state playoffs, will have a chance to push that win streak to nine games against those hungry Panthers at 1 p.m. today at Stubler Memorial Field. Then again, the rematch between the teams that played each other in Week 5 could be between a pair of teams whose identities have changed substantially.
“There was still a lot of season left for both teams the last time we played,” said fourth-year Delta coach Ben Johnson, whose team is making its second consecutive trip to the state quarterfinals. “Both teams have improved an awful lot since then.”
That goes without saying, especially for Delta.
While the Demons have put together their win streak, Delta has pieced together some impressive victories this season. The most notable, aside from the 42-41 first-round victory the 13th-seeded Panthers posted against fourth-seeded Holy Family in overtime last week, was their 31-21 victory over Palisade, the second-seeded team in the 3A playoffs, last month. The Bulldogs lost to The Classical Academy, 24-21, on Friday.
The Panthers have a balanced offensive attack, averaging 394.3 yards per game. Much of that comes through the air, as junior quarterback Cade Gafford has hit 133-of-229 passes (59.4 percent) for 1,955 yards. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is the most impressive, though: Gafford has thrown 23 touchdown passes and just three picks this season.
Delta might turn to the passing game a little more today as the Panthers are nursing some injuries from the Holy Family game. The most notable is sophomore running back Jonny Pounce, whose 1,503 rushing yards are second in 3A to Hill (1,566). Johnson said he suffered a high ankle sprain against Holy Family and, on Thursday, said his status for today’s game was questionable.
The running game could also be a big factor for the Demons, who showed the ability to diversify against Elizabeth. Hill had 147 of his 183 rushing yards in the first half and, when Elizabeth’s defense adjusted in the second half, it opened up the passing game for Glenwood. That’s been paced by three-year starting quarterback Travis Lundin, who finished 9-of-13 passing for 98 yards against the Cardinals and has thrown just one interception since the Demons’ 0-3 start to the season.
I think it will be a simple matter of who does what they do the best,” Glenwood coach Rocky Whitworth said. “We’re going to focus on what we do offensively and defensively, and they’re not going to change either. I mean, there will be a little change here and there, but they do what they do well.”
Execution could be the biggest key today. Forecasts call for temperatures in the 40s with a chance of snow. That pales in comparison to the weather in the previous meeting between the teams in September, which included rain, sleet, snow, icy wind and a 45-minute lightning delay.
“It’s just going to come down to who executes better overall,” Johnson said. “We weren’t really able to do that at a high level the last time we played [Glenwood], so we need to do a better job of keeping possession of the football.”
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