Panthers football falls at home MCHS drops close game to defending 1A state champ Cedaredge
Another opening night at Panther Stadium, another season-opening loss for the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers. For the perennially poor MCHS football program, however, remaining competitive with the defending 1A state champion Cedaredge Bruins was, in itself, a victory.
After kicking off to the Bruins to start the game, the Panthers immediately found themselves on their heels following a 60-yard pass from Bruins’ quarterback Trent Walker to Bruins’ wide receiver Kyle Ward. After briefly keeping Cedaredge out of the end zone, the Panther defense caved, allowing running back Peter Williamson to score on a 4-yard run.
“We knew that they were going to come out and test us right away,” said head coach Casey Coulter. “Our guys knew it, but I guess their heads weren’t in it quite yet. We’re usually a slow-starting team.”
After the Panthers failed to convert a first down on their opening offensive possession, it appeared as if the home team would be in for a long night. Then the defense stepped up. Following several consecutive tackles by junior linebacker Randy Haley, Jonathan Walck intercepted Walker at the Panther 6-yard line.
Feeding off the energy created by Walck’s interception, the Panther offense came to life, picking up 50 yards through the air on a pass from Walck to sophomore wide receiver Ryan Gurney. Later in the drive, the Panthers’ aerial attack again came to life when Walck delivered a perfect deep ball to sophomore wide receiver Austin Bayles for a 31- yard touchdown and a 7-6 Panther lead.
“Getting that first score was huge,” said Coulter. “Last year, we always played from behind. Getting that first score, now we know we can hang.”
Following multiple stands by both defenses, momentum shifted back to the Bruins on a big special-teams play. Following a long punt return by the Bruins to the Panthers’ 24 yard line, Walker delivered a 22-yard strike to Mickey Madaleno, which, after a successful 2-point conversion, put Cedaredge ahead 14-7.
The score remained 14-7 until halftime and after a three and out drive by the Panthers to begin the second half, the Panther defense again came up big. With Cedaredge on the move, sophomore linebacker, David Skaggs, came down with an interception.
Following Skaggs’ big play, the Panthers marched down the field before tying the game, 14-14, on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Walck to Haley in the left corner of the end zone.
The score remained tied until 4:55 remained in the fourth quarter, at which point Walck badly underthrew Haley and was picked off by Cedaredge defensive back Pater Williamson, who returned the ball for a touchdown, putting the Bruins ahead 22-14.
On the Panthers’ next offensive possession, Walck was again intercepted by Williamson after his pass over the middle glanced off several hands. Again taking advantage of a Panthers’ miscue, the Bruins punched the ball into the end zone to move ahead 28-14 with 3:52 left in the game.
“We need to work on our turnovers,” said Haley. “We had those two costly turnovers that they got 14 points off of. We just need to work on the little things.”
Down 14 points, the Panthers refused to give in, scoring one last touchdown on a Haley run following a 56-yard pass from Walck to senior Keegan Ralstin. The touchdown pulled the Panthers to within 8 at 28-20, a score that would stand until the final horn sounded.
Leading the Panthers on offense was Walck with 193 yards passing and Haley with 34 yards rushing and 46 yards receiving. On the defensive side of the ball, Skaggs led the team with 12 tackles. Haley recorded 11.
“Man, our kids stepped up, and they were having fun,” said Coulter. “Last year, (Cedaredge) mopped the floor with us. This year, our kids are just hungrier, they are more mature, they understand the game better and they are playing together as a team.”
An improvement, for sure, but even so, there is still work to be done if the Panthers hope to get on the winning side of things.
“We have a couple things to work on in practice, but we will get better,” said Ralstin. “We need to keep our blocks up and work on our passing a little bit. It’s just a lot of little things.”
Looking to even their record, the Panthers will next travel to Edwards to face Battle Mountain High School on Sept. 6.
Sam Green/Cortez Journal