Delta High School’s junior quarterback Nolan Bynum

Delta High School’s junior quarterback Nolan Bynum cocks his arm to deliver one-of-13 passes he completed in the Panthers’ 17-6 semifinal win over Basalt High School in the Class 2A football playoffs Nov. 23. 

A collective sigh of relief wafted through the brisk air in Basalt as shadows covered a damp playing field last Saturday. That sigh came from the visiting Delta High School Panthers’ side of the field after an exciting 17-6 victory over a determined Basalt High School Longhorn football team. Though the start of the game has temperatures in the low 40s, the mountainous terrain west of Basalt cast a dark shadow which reduced the temperature by 10-15 degrees late in the fourth quarter.

Playing conditions weren’t optimum by any stretch of imagination, but school officials, with help from community members, had removed snow from the playing surface to make the field the best it could be for the first meeting between the two school teams in a playoff game. As the final score might indicate, the contest was, indeed, a defensive battle for 32 minutes.

The Longhorns won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. Senior Felipe Bedoy’s kick was intentionally short and to the east side of the field. The kick was muffed by the receiver and Delta was fortunate to have the game’s first turnover go in its favor with a recovery that gave the Panthers their first possession at the Basalt 45-yard line. Following two passes to senior Nate Workman and a trio of running plays to senior Ku La Moo, Delta’s drive bogged down at Basalt’s 15-yard line. Moo, last week’s offensive star with a 42-yard field goal to win the game against Faith Christian, calmly booted a 32-yarder to give Delta an early 3-0 lead with 9:03 left in the first quarter.

The Longhorns didn’t fare any better on their next possession attempt with a three-and-out to give Delta the ball back at the Basalt 47-yard line following a punt. The Panthers were plagued by four penalties that pushed them back to their own 35-yard line before Workman punted the ball back to the Longhorns.

Basalt turned the ball over to the Panthers on senior Hunter Hughes’ interception of a Matty Gillis pass at the 39-yard line of Delta. Delta’s possession lasted three plays before Workman had to punt the ball back to Basalt where the Longhorns began their next possession from the team’s own 40-yard line.

Delta picked up its fifth penalty of the first quarter in a drive that had the Longhorns on Delta’s 29-yard line as the first quarter ended.

Basalt’s offense stalled in the opening minutes of the second frame and the Longhorns turned the ball over on downs at the 35-yard line.

Delta junior Nolan Bynum misjudged a slant pass and was intercepted by Longhorn defensive back Wilson Maytham to give Basalt a new set of downs at Delta’s 49-yard line.

Basalt gained just five yards on the possession and sophomore punter Cole Dombrowski kicked the ball back to the Panthers. Delta’s offense could not find enough chinks in the Longhorn’s defense and returned the ball after just seven yards gained three plays later. Unfortunately for Basalt, Workman’s punt was fumbled and the Panthers had their second big break of the game with a fumble recovery on Basalt’s 26-yard line. From there, Bynum found Hughes for his first touchdown reception on the first play of the drive. Moo booted the extra point and the Panthers had stretched their lead to 10-0 with 7:11 left in the first half of play.

Bynum threw a second interception, on another slant pattern, just before the half but managed to survive allowing the Panthers to take their 10-0 lead to halftime.

The Panthers had the ball first in the second half and needed one yard for a first down to keep the drive going but fumbled the snap to lose the ball on downs. Basalt’s first possession of the second half ended with senior Colby Wilson’s interception. The game’s give away marathon resumed on Delta’s next possession with yet another loss on downs on Basalt’s 18-yard line.

Basalt made the most of its latest possession using the arm of Gillis who threw two passes to junior wide receiver Rulbe Alvarado for 83 yards, the second an 80-yard scoring strike over Delta defender Mason Hollowwa with 5:15 left in the third quarter. A missed extra point kick by senior Jackson Rappaport made the score 10-6.

The Panthers began their final scoring drive in the waning moments of the third quarter at their own 20-yard line. Bynum used four passes, one to Workman for 12 yards, and three to Hughes for the remaining 50 yards (26-yards for the TD). Moo’s PAT kick made the score 17-6 with 10:18 left in the game.

Basalt had the ball three times in the fourth quarter with each ending with a turnover; two interceptions by Workman and one by Hughes.

Gillis finished the game with 96 yards of passing offense on five of 13 passing and one touchdown. Rappaport was 0-2 passing. The Longhorns were limited to just 55 yards on the ground with Dombrowski’s 54 yards leading the way and finished the game with a total of 151 yards for the game.

Defensively for the Longhorns, junior Peetr Zimmer was in on 15 tackles with teammates Alvarado and Lander McNamee recording nine tackles each to lead the way. Sophomore Gavin Webb corralled Bynum for two sacks and 17 yards of lost real estate in the game.

Delta’s offense was fueled by the play of Bynum’s arm who finished the game with 191 yards on 13 attempts and two touchdowns. Bynum also found the wrong target two times in the game. Hughes caught six of Bynum’s aerials for 105 yards and both Panther touchdowns. Workman was on the receiving end of five passes for 74 yards while seniors Gauge Lockhart and Skyler Kraai had one catch each for nine and three yards, respectively.

Delta’s ground game was anchored by Moo’s 69 yards on 15 carries with Bynum adding an additional 45 yards on 10 carries. Sophomore Timothy Horn had four yards on two carries for a team total of 118 yards on the ground. The Panthers finished the game with a combined 309 yards of total offense from scrimmage.

Defensively for the Panthers Wilson led Delta in tackles with 13 while senior Brandon Butler was credited with 10 tackles and junior James Goff finished with nine. Lockhart, Butler and junior Jeffery Griffith had a sack each for a combined loss of 19 yards.

Following the game, coach Ben Johnson was, outwardly, amazingly calm. When asked about that calmness, Johnson addressed some of the components of the game. “The kids were a little nervous and it we played a little sloppy… but the kids played very well (even) though we had a lot of mistakes. We have to clean those up for next week.”

Delta’s defense was an obvious key to Saturday’s win and Johnson offered his take on his keys to success. “I thought keeping them in front of us was key. They got one deep pass on us then we started making plays in the second half. I thought Hunter (Hughes) had a great game and Gauge and those kids played well, too.”

An excited Nate Workman offered a few words as well. “Our offense was a little slow today and the defense kept us in it. As a senior, this is the greatest feeling. I’ve been waiting all four years for this.”

For junior Alex Abila the win is rewarding. “It’s so big to be a part of this team as a junior. We’ve been tapping on the door to the finals and we finally got it done!”

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