Panthers step up big, beat Eagle Valley
Walck rushes for 273 yards, 2 touchdowns, in 20-19 win
Some wins are monumental in that they reverse long-standing trends, solidify teammates and signify growth.
For the much-maligned Montezuma-Cortez High School Panthers football team, last Friday’s 20-19 victory over Eagle Valley certainly was a monumental one.
Playing in brisk air Friday, Oct. 11, the Panthers opened the game in the same way they have opened so many games this season, falling behind 7-0 early in the second quarter after Eagle Valley running back Victor Avila ran the ball in from three yards out.
Reversing seasonal trends, though, the Panthers fought back, putting together an excellent drive punctuated by a 15-yard touchdown pass from Jonathan Walck to David Skaggs.
On the play, Skaggs did a beautiful job of finding open space in the middle, securing the pass and rumbling into the end zone. After an extra point by Ryan Gurney, the score was tied 7-7 with 5:28 to go in the second quarter.
“Our linemen blocked great,” said Skaggs of the play. “(Eagle Valley) didn’t see it coming. I lowered my shoulder and went into the end zone.”
The score remained tied until halftime thanks in large part to the strong play of the Panthers’ defense, which was carried by a Gurney interception and multiple big hits by Skaggs.
With the game hanging in the balance, Eagle Valley seized a 13-7 lead with 2:54 left in the third quarter after running back Luiz Chavez took a handoff from quarterback Harrison Stevens and rumbled in for a 1-yard score.
The Panthers, however, fought back on their next drive, and after a 14-yard run by Gurney on a reverse, Walck took off, breaking multiple tackles en route to a 67-yard score.
“I was just fighting hard,” said Walck, who led the Panthers in rushing with 273 yards. “I put my head down, and I ran hard. The linemen were blocking well.”
After an extra point by Gurney, the score stood 14-13 Panthers with 2:27 left in the third quarter, and it remained that way until the 6:59 mark of the fourth.
At that point, Stevens swept around the left side of the Panthers’ defense and scored from 50 yards out, putting Eagle Valley up 19-14.
Making it clear that they had no plans of giving up, the Panthers scored quickly after Walck called his own number and ran the ball in from 56 yards out.
“(The running game) was all heart,” said Panthers’ head coach Casey Coulter of his team’s 347-yard rushing performance. “There were times where we would run one play, nothing would happen, we would run the exact same play the next play, and things would pop.”
Up 20-19 with 5:47 to go in the fourth quarter, the game was the Panthers’ to lose, but unlike so many times this season, a loss simply was not in the cards.
On the strength of a beautiful interception by Austin Bayles, a second interception by Ryan Gurney and a pick to seal the game deep in Panthers’ territory by Josh Ramos, the game ended 20-19 in favor of the Panthers.
As the Panthers sprinted off the field, clearly elated with their victory, Austin Bayles took a moment to discuss the significance of the victory.
“We came together more as a team than we ever have,” said Bayles. “Everybody kept their head up the whole game. We trusted the man next to us, and we didn’t quit.”
Such trust, as well as the ability to lock up the win in a tight game, represented a moment of growth for the Panthers, who have been scrutinized throughout the season.
“After last week, there was some skepticism about this and that,” said Coulter. “The kids fought through it. They stuck to what we were telling them all week, and they did a great job.”
With their record now at 2-5, the Panthers will look to pick up another win next week on the road against Moffat County.
“(Moffat County) is going to come out and hit us in the mouth just like Eagle Valley did,” said Coulter. “It’s a game that we can’t overlook. We’ve got some confidence now, so we’re going to see if we can keep things going on the road.”