Delta expects different game than first when they face Basalt in semifinals
When Delta hosted Basalt back on Oct. 18, the third week of the Class 2A Western Slope League football season, the Panthers pounced early and never looked back in a 35-6 win. It was the only time the Longhorns had truly been pushed around this fall, but Delta coach Ben Johnson is expecting a different game on Saturday.
“I thought we started really fast. We just played a good, clean football game. They are doing things differently. I’ve seen film — he’s opened it up a lot more,” Johnson said, referring to BHS coach Carl Frerichs. “Both teams are extremely different. We have five completely new offensive linemen. I’m sure they’ve made some changes. So it should be a great game.”
The WSL foes will matchup in the 2A state semifinals on Saturday, a 1 p.m. game hosted by Basalt. The winner will face either No. 2 Sterling or No. 3 Resurrection Christian in the state championship game Nov. 30 in Pueblo.
This will be the fifth time in four seasons Basalt and Delta have played. They split non-league games in 2016 and 2017, before splitting league games in 2018 and earlier this fall. A state semifinal seems an apt place for the deciding grudge match.
“We’ve played each other the last four years. With both teams there are plusses and minuses to that. And I think coach Johnson would feel the exact same way,” Frerichs said. “Win or lose, as long as we feel we give the kids a great opportunity as coaches we’ve done our jobs, and if the kids give us everything they got, they’ve done their job. And I just feel it was one of those nights where I don’t think we hit either one of those categories.”
Frerichs was referring to that October game in which Basalt fell behind 14-0 barely a minute into the game and that was that. The Delta loss was the first of the season for then 6-0 Basalt, which would also lose a week later to No. 1 Rifle. The Longhorns avenged that second loss last week, beating the Bears in the state quarterfinals. Saturday, they’ll get the chance to erase that first loss, as well.
“Offensively we moved the ball pretty well between the 30s, we just didn’t put a lot of points on the board,” Frerichs said. “Defensively and special teams were a huge struggle that night.”
When trying to stop Delta’s offense, Frerichs more or less pointed out everyone, but notably Delta junior quarterback Nolan Bynum. He’s thrown for 2,220 yards with 31 touchdowns and only three interceptions this season. He’s also rushed for 282 yards and nine more scores.
His growth is a big reason why the Panthers are 10-1 overall. A longtime power on the Western Slope, Delta went a mere 4-5 in 2017 and 6-4 in 2018. DHS lost to Platte Valley in the first round of the playoffs last season.
“The last couple of years we were a little low on seniors. These kids have played quite a bit of football, to be honest with you. They are a pretty experienced group,” Johnson said of the bounce-back year, giving a lot of credit to his junior quarterback. “He had sophomore struggles. This year, he’s a lot more composed, a lot better leader in the huddle. Just grew up and matured a little bit, just like most young sophomores do that are juniors now. He’s just having a good year.”
As Frerichs noted and Johnson agreed with, Bynum has a lot of help. While senior running back Ku Moo leads the team with 577 rushing yards, he’s one of four, including Bynum, with at least 200 yards rushing this season. Four different Panthers have at least 300 yards receiving, led by senior Hunter Hughes, who has 831 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“He can spread the ball out,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of kids who can make plays right now and a lot of them are seniors and they’ve been in the program for a number of years. They are just playing really well right now.”
This will be the first time Basalt has played in a 2A state semifinal. Delta’s been to three semifinal games since 2013, two of them coming in 3A. However, all three of those games ended in losses, the last coming in 2016 to Kent Denver.
“It’s a little weird you play a conference team this late, but it’s fun. Carl has done a great job with that group,” Johnson said. When you get this far you are going to run into good teams. If you play well that day, you are going to move on. If you don’t play well that day, you are not going to move on.”
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Aspen’s Nic Pevny and Basalt’s Tyler Sims finished 1-2