DELTA -- Sebastian Metcalf had the mindset of a champion Saturday afternoon. His Silver Creek teammates followed suit, one by one.
That's how good teams make it through a rigorous football season, when the body has all but broken down. Prevailing mentally, the Raptors prevailed physically at Panther Stadium in the Class 3A state semifinals, outdueling Delta 28-17 to advance to the title game for the third straight season.
Metcalf hadn't practiced all week, sitting out until Friday with a groin injury. At 5-foot-10 and 143 pounds, he was assigned to defend Delta's stud receiver Ryan Whiteside, a tall drink of water at 6-3 and 160 pounds, throughout the pass-happy contest on a frigid afternoon on the Western Slope. Whiteside had made mincemeat of many a team over the course of the season on his way to 1,000 yards.
The Panthers' senior was not denied of every play on Saturday, finishing with 175 yards on 11 catches, but Metcalf was often in the spotlight and turned several potential big plays away. It was just one of the many big individual performances that led to a team victory.
"My coach said he's going to win some battles but you've got to win the war, and I'd like to think I won the war," said Metcalf, whose team will host Coronado next Saturday in the 3A championship. "It was all about the jump ball, and the height was obviously a factor the entire game. My coaches just told me to punch the ball ... I did my best to cover that guy, keep the ball out of his hands."
"(Metcalf), he's been up against some of the best receivers in the state, and I'm not just talking about 3A," added coach Mike Apodaca. "We knew he'd be our shutdown guy, and the thing about him is he does a great job bouncing play-to-play. He doesn't get too caught up in things, and in that position he was in, you had to be that way. The kid was going to make a couple plays, we just had to make a few more and Sebastian did in the end."
Metcalf's efforts were symbolic of a team that turned things around in the second half against the Panthers, a team that had not reached the semifinals in more than 15 years. Much like last week's win against Pueblo East, Silver Creek needed a spark at halftime in order to pull away from their opponent.
They got that through turnovers, taking the ball away twice in the second half and four times overall. After Delta had taken a 17-14 lead with 8 minutes, 23 seconds to go in the third on a fluky touchdown catch by Whiteside (the ball hit another receiver in the hands and fell right to him), the Panthers appeared in business after a Whiteside interception at Delta's 3-yard line, a play that denied the Raptors a chance to pull back ahead.
It turned out Silver Creek would score anyway. After getting some room away from the end zone, a first-down screen play to Whiteside was sniffed out by the Silver Creek defense, causing the receiver to lose the ball. It popped right into the hands of Silver Creek's Collin Gibbs. The very next play, Anthony Kasper gave Silver Creek a 21-14 lead with a 13-yard run at the 3:57 mark, and the defense only got better from there on out.
The Raptors (10-2) shut down the passing attack of Delta, allowing just three more first downs and no points the rest of the way. Andre Apodaca recorded a sack to force a punt on one possession, then ended Delta's next drive with an interception. Between those plays, Nico Rembert extended Silver Creek's lead to 28-17 with a 9-yard TD catch.
Austin Hartman also had an interception, and Dakota Silva recovered a fumble in the first half.
"We knew that defense is going to win a championship and we still have to bank on that as we move on," said Andre Apodaca, who added he was going to call big brother-Washington State quarterback Austin after the game. "We can't do anything on our own, everything has to be done together. Knowing that turnovers are huge was just in our minds."
"I'd say (turnovers) were one of the most important things today, because we play better as an offense when the defense puts us in a good position," said quarterback Ben Sjobakken. "We get the momentum from those, and momentum is huge in the third round of the playoffs."
Oddly, the Raptors were outgained for the game 380-295. While Delta quarterback Cade Gafford totaled 335 yards passing, top rusher Jonathan Ponce (1,668 rushing yards this season) was held to just 31 yards on 13 carries.
Silver Creek's attack was balanced, with Kasper gaining 119 total yards and three different receivers accounting for 40-plus yards. Sjobakken overcame a shaky first half to finish 15 of 24 for 172 yards.
"When you have it on your back, trying to get to a state championship, a title game, I think there is always a little bit of tightness," Mike Apodaca said. "Once we got over the tightness, they just started playing and understanding that it's just another game. Go play it and see what happens."
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Editor's note: Original article misidentified Collin Peterson as the player who recovered a fumble.
SILVER CREEK 28, DELTA 17
At Delta H.S.
Silver Creek (10-2) 7 7 7 7 -- 28
Delta (9-4) 0 10 7 0 -- 17
SC -- Zane Lindsey 36 pass from Ben Sjobakken (Ryan Charles kick), 4:12.
D -- Devin Williams 70 pass from Cade Gafford (kick good), 11:09.
D -- 33 field goal, 6:38.
SC -- Josh Quiroz 1 run (Charles kick), :26.
D -- Ryan Whiteside 13 pass from Gafford (kick good), 8:23.
SC -- Anthony Kasper 13 run (Charles kick), 3:57.
SC -- Nico Rembert 9 pass from Sjobakken (Charles kick), 8:23.
RUSHING -- Silver Creek: Anthony Kasper 14-88, Ben Sjobakken 4-14, Josh Quiroz 7-14, Brock Ricks 1-5, Eric Machmuller 1-4; Delta: Jonathan Ponce 13-31, Tyler Sandoval 6-25, Cade Gafford 4-(minus-11).
PASSING (comp-att-int-yards) -- Silver Creek: Sjobakken 15-24-1-172; Delta: Gafford 22-35-2-335.
RECEIVING -- Silver Creek: Zane Lindsey 3-44, Machmuller 4-42, Ricks 3-43, Kasper 2-31, Nico Rembert 2-14, Quiroz 1-4; Delta: Ryan Whiteside 11-175, Devin Williams 4-104, Eian Baier 3-19, Sandoval 3-23.