Basalt football’s historic playoff run ends with semifinal loss to Delta

The game had changed for a few fleeting moments in favor of the Basalt High School football team. But a decisive drive by Delta soon after finally toppled the Longhorns for good in Saturday’s Class 2A state semifinal game in Basalt.

“That drive was huge,” Delta junior quarterback Nolan Bynum said. “That completely flipped the whole momentum of the game right there. They got it back and we drive the ball down the field and get that score and it’s back in our hands.”

That early fourth quarter scoring drive was the nail in the coffin in Delta’s 17-6 win that sends them to the state championship game for the first time in nearly six decades. The loss ended Basalt’s historic playoff run — BHS was competing in the 2A semifinals for the first time in program history. The Longhorns’ only other semifinal appearance came in Class 1A in 1979.

“I wish the game would have gone differently today,” Basalt coach Carl Frerichs said. “I definitely know when we go back and watch film we are going to kind of beat ourselves up a little bit because we know we had opportunities. We went toe-to-toe with them.”

The semifinal game was a rare playoff matchup between a pair of 2A Western Slope League foes. Basalt and Delta had played four times in four years, splitting the contests. This included a 35-6 win for the Panthers earlier this season in Delta.

In a way similar to that first game, Basalt was hardly sharp early in Saturday’s game but did enough defensively to make Delta play equally as sloppy. The Panthers led 10-0 at halftime; their lone touchdown was a Bynum to Hunter Hughes score midway through the second quarter that came after Basalt had muffed a punt deep in its own territory.

“Basalt played really well. Hats off to them. They took away a lot of good things that we tried to do and sort of made us a little bit ugly,” Delta coach Ben Johnson said. “They played a really good game and they had a tremendous year and those guys should be very proud of themselves.”

Basalt’s defense made a pair of fourth-down stops deep in their own territory early in the third quarter to keep within striking distance. This led to a play that nearly changed Basalt’s fortune in the game, a 79-yard pass and catch from junior quarterback Matty Gillis to junior speedster Rulbe Alvarado, a missed extra point making it 10-6 in favor of Delta with 5:15 to play in the third.

“One thing that has been so special with this team all year is their perseverance,” Frerichs said. “These kids don’t fold. They keep battling. We knew all we needed was one thing to break our way and we felt like that happened in the third quarter — that big play to Rulbe. And we were just one or two more big plays from having this Saturday be the Saturday we wanted it to be.”

Still 10-6 entering the fourth quarter, Bynum led Delta’s offense on a game-sealing drive, which ended with a 26-yard pass and catch again from Bynum to Hughes with 10 minutes to play that seemed to seal the contest.

Delta’s defense did the rest, a pair of interceptions late in the game keeping Basalt from any sort of comeback.

The win was a breakthrough for the Panthers. Delta had played in the state semifinals three times going back to 2013 — two of them in Class 3A — and lost every time. Meaning, for the first time since 1961, Delta will compete in the state championship game. The Panthers lost to Lamar in the title game that season, but did beat Fairview in the finale a year earlier for the program’s only state title.

Delta (11-1), the No. 4 seed, will play No. 2 Sterling (11-1) for the 2A state championship on Saturday in Pueblo. The Tigers beat No. 3 Resurrection Christian in Saturday’s other semifinal, 21-14.

“Coach (Johnson) told us, ‘We get to that door every year, but now it’s just time to kick that door in,’” Bynum said of the historic win. “It really hasn’t hit me too hard yet. I know once I get in my car I’m just going to break down, I think. But it’s crazy. We are just blessed with the community that we have. My teammates, I love my teammates and we have a great bond and we are ready to go get one more next week.”

Basalt, the No. 9 seed, ends its season with a 9-3 record. It was the third straight season BHS finished with nine wins, a stretch that can only be compared with those teams in the ‘70s, including that historic 1979 team that made the 1A semifinals before losing to eventual champion Limon.

“Credit to coach Johnson and his staff. They were well prepared,” Frerichs said. “They did some great things up front and man, they are super athletic up front. We had a hard time with their speed and their athleticism and they had some big kids up there.”

Frerichs did want to thank the Basalt community for helping make the game even happen. The BHS football field was covered in roughly 5 inches of snow from Friday’s storm and it took a few hours of laborious work that evening to get the field cleared in time for Saturday afternoon’s game.

“(Friday) night was such a special night on our field,” Frerichs said. “So many parents, so many people shoveled. To me that was such a special thing and why Basalt is such a special place.”