Panthers trounce Tigers

WALSENBURG — The John Mall Panthers football team opened their 2013 season by sending a message to the rest of their opponents that they are a force to reckon with as the Cats dominated the Del Norte Tigers with a 56-0 blowout before a hometown crowd.
The Panthers played an almost flawless game enroute to their victory, having only one turnover, a muffed punt which resulted in a turnover which kept the Tigers’ second drive alive. The Cats were also penalized seven times for 60 yards. Three personal foul penalties were senseless errors and were the only errors the Cats made.
The Panthers’ offense controlled the game from their opening drive as they exploded off the strong arm of quarterback, Clayton Berger, who threw for three long touchdowns including a 51-yard throw to Brandon Bechaver on the third play of the game. Berger’s second long strike came at 5:05 in the first when a 31-yard connection to Shane Bobian gave the Panthers a 14-0 lead. Berger’s final touchdown strike came in the second quarter when he connected to Bechaver once again off a one fingertip catch for 57 yards.
The final 30 yards after the catch was all Bechaver as he made the catch then broke into the secondary for the score. Bechaver finished the day with 57 yards receiving and 64 yards rushing. At this point in the game, John Mall led 21-0. On the day, Berger went 4 of 5 passing for 171 yards and two carries for 7 yards.
The Panther defense also gave the offense excellent field position throughout the game. The first turnover resulting in points came after Evan Gonzales intercepted a Matt Muller pass and returned the ball 36 yards setting up a first and goal from the eight-yard line. Kylan Estrada then took the ball in for a touchdown on the next play, giving John Mall a commanding 28-0 lead with 2:12 remaining in the first.
On the next series of downs, the Panther defense came through once again on the fourth play of the Tiger drive when Bechaver intercepted the ball and brought it to their own 40-yard line. A five-yard tripping call against the Tigers put the ball on the Panther 45. On the next play, Estrada took the ball for twenty yards which was followed up with a Bobian 30-yard touchdown run, giving the Panthers a commanding 35-0 lead as the first quarter drew to an end. Estrada carried the ball six times for 114 yards and lead the team in rushing. The next defensive stand for the Panthers saw Isaiah Vigil force a fumble from quarterback Muller, and the Panthers recovered the ball on the 37 with 13 seconds remaining in the quarter. It took the Panthers four plays to find the Promised Land once again and with 10:28 seconds remaining in the half, the Panthers found themselves with a 42-0 point lead. Mercifully, for the Tigers the 40-point rule kicked in and the clock continued to run continuously.
Del Norte had another chance to try to make something happen, but the Panther defense was too strong for the Tigers to mount any type of offense. Tim Pacheco came up with an interception of his own. Following an after-the-catch penalty, the Panthers began their drive on their 42-yard line. It took two plays for the Panthers to score again, following a Berger to Adam Serrano connection for 46 yards and the score with 3.59 remaining. Following the kick-off return and with a continuous running clock, Del Norte was unable to move the ball as time ran out in the half.
It was a scoreless and fast paced third quarter before the Cats’ special teams found the end zone when Brandon Bechaver returned a punt 55 yards down the right side. The play was made possible when a purple wall of blockers cleared the path for Bechaver to score the final touchdown of the game.
Of note, senior Jordan Bobian, who led the league last year in punting was not called upon to punt in the game. He did however connect with eight consecutive point-after-touchdowns.
Also, the three long T.D. strikes by Berger and two additional long yardage passes which helped secure the lopsided victory was all the Panthers needed to exploit the lack of coverage in the Tigers secondary defense.
The Panthers also dominated the line on both the offense and defense. The offensive line opened lanes up the middle and on the right and left sides which enabled the backs to make plays and yardage the Panthers needed to control the tempo of the game.
Defensively, the Panther line was able to stop the Tiger running game including a quarterback and three drops behind the line of scrimmage for negative yards. The Panthers did not allow any yards rushing and only 24 yards passing. Garrett Quintana and Jeremiah Vigil led the team with four tackles apiece.
Despite the play clock running so early in the game, the Panthers had a chance to score even more points toward the end of the game. Some questionable late flags, when the second team was on the field, which was most of the fourth quarter, stopped the Panthers from scoring once again.
Statistically, the Panthers did not have that many offensive yards. Their scores came from the defense putting them in excellent field position and the ability of Berger and the rest of the offense to execute a well conceived offensive attack.
The Panthers will be in Center tomorrow night with kickoff at 7 pm. (see preview story).