Despite an early lead in the first quarter and a late rally in the fourth quarter that nearly tied the game in the final minutes, the 2A Pagosa Springs Pirates were unable to overcome the host 3A Delta Panthers last week, losing narrowly, 35-33.
There was no shame in the loss. Delta had lost only to two Western Slope powerhouse teams (Glenwood Springs and the No. 2 state-ranked Steamboat Springs Sailors) in close defensive matches.
Pagosa had the early lead when Zach Lucero took an 8-yard pass from Taylor Shaffer into the end zone less than two minutes into the game. After the Pirate defense shut down Delta, forcing a punt, Pagosa drove down field again and, with a 3-yard rush by Dakota Miller, Pagosa was up 12-0 with 6 minutes, 41 seconds left in the period.
Unwilling to remain shut out in the quarter, however, the Panthers finally responded to the Pirates’ roll with a 3-yard touchdown rush, making it a 12-7 game with 3:43 left in the quarter.
Just four seconds into the second quarter, the Panthers pounced again, with a quick 3-yard scramble over the goal line, snatching the lead from Pagosa and making it a 14-12 game.
Pagosa struck back with 8:42 left in the half when Shaffer connected on a 37-yard pass to Jordan Caler and the Pirates regained the momentum with a 19-14 lead. However, holding to the ground, the Panthers managed to capitalize on an 8-yard run that gave them a slim 21-19 advantage at the end of the half.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, Delta owned the third quarter, picking their game off the ground and taking to the air. With a 10-yard touchdown pass at 9:51 and a 32-yard bomb into the end zone at 3:36, the Panthers sent the Pirates into the final period with a 16-point deficit, with Pagosa down 35-19 at the end of the third quarter.
Unwilling to surrender (the Pirates’ hallmark this season), Pagosa swooped back into action. Less than a minute into the period, Shaffer blasted through the Panther’s defensive line with a 4-yard touchdown rush and, with a two-point conversion good on a rush by Tyler Sharp, the Pirates whittled Delta’s lead to 35-27.
Striking again with just 2:58 in the game, Shaffer plowed past the goal line with a 2-yard rush, putting Pagosa just a field goal from a tie.
Attempting an onside kick, the Pirates were unable to pick up the bounce, and with just minutes to go, Delta ran out the clock, sending the Pirates home with a 35-33 loss.
Still, Coach Sean O’Donnell was pleased with his team’s performance against a formidable 3A team. “I was proud of our guys,” O’Donnell said. “They (the Panthers) had big, physical running backs, big linebackers. I think our guys hung tough with a big football team.
“I felt like it was a complete team effort. Down 35-19 going into the fourth quarter, I think that showed a lot of character.”
The Pirates return to the road and conference play tomorrow night when they travel to La Jara to meet the 3-5 Centauri Falcons. Fourth in the Mountain 2A conference (and having lost 22-13 to Salida, a team the Pirates pounded 46-18 on Oct. 2), O’Donnell expressed a little caution. “They play extremely hard and they’re well coached,” the coach said. “La Jara is a tough place to play.”
Next Friday, the Pirates go on the road again to play their final season game against Pagosa’s conference nemesis, the Bayfield Wolverines. Although the 6-2, Wolverines have fallen from the top spot in the conference just three weeks ago (with a 17-6 loss to Salida dropping them behind Pagosa, while Salida’s defeat of Centauri dropped Bayfield to the number three spot), taking on Bayfield on their home turf is never an easy task; in fact, the Wolverines are unbeaten at home this season (the Pirates cannot claim the same distinction).
Still, with an almost flawless offense and a defense that seems to improve, exponentially, with every game, an offensive line that gives running backs room to maneuver (and score) and defensive backs who have shut down all but formidable 3A opponents, the next two games should not only prove the Pirates to be conference champs but, potentially, state champs.