PARACHUTE - Plenty of things were there to inspire Grand Valley High School's football team Saturday afternoon, but the Middle Park Panthers slowly took that momentum away.
Henry Southway had 160 rushing yards on 27 carries - including the go-ahead 5-yard touchdown run with 3 minutes, 7 seconds remaining - to help the Panthers to a 21-14 victory at Toby LeBorgne Stadium while bringing an end to Grand Valley's season in the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs.
"These guys had a lot of adversity to deal with this week," Grand Valley coach Mike Johnson said. "They fought back really well, but it just wasn't our day."
It was the first playoff appearance since 2008 for Grand Valley (8-2), which rallied to tie the game at 14 in the second quarter after falling behind by two TDs early on. But Middle Park (8-2), which will host Florence in a second-round matchup nextSaturday, used a clock-eating drive in the fourth quarter to go ahead for good.
Grand Valley's players, however, have been consumed with thoughts beyond the football field since Wednesday. Senior running back Jake White was involved in an accident during auto shop class and was in the intensive care unit of St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction during the game.
Without White, the Cardinals relied heavily on Tanner Zimmerman - who finished with 96 yards on 18 carries - and got big contributions from running backs Sergio Melendrez and Bryan Hegwood. Quarterback Tyler Scott finished 8-for-20 passing with 130 yards and a pair of TDs, but didn't complete a pass in the second half.
"I think once we stopped them, that helped our offense open up to come back," Zimmerman said. "In the second half, I guess we just didn't make the adjustments we needed to pull through."
Middle Park finished with 249 yards of total offense - only 13 of which came in the air - and ate up the clock throughout the game. Overall, the Panthers ran just four more plays (58-54) than Grand Valley, but walked to the line of scrimmage and ate up the play clock on every snap.
Saturday was the first appearance in the state playoffs for the Panthers in 20 years, Middle Park coach Troy Schmidt said. He added that no one there could remember the last time the Panthers had won a playoff game.
"It's a little more special, for sure," Schmidt said. "We've had four or five key starters get hurt over the course of the year, and we're like Grand Valley because we don't have much to go to after that. We didn't know what our chances were with the guys we had left, and the guys we had left battled hard."
The Panthers jumped up early when they recovered a Grand Valley fumble on the Cardinals' first-play from scrimmage, going up 7-0 five plays later on a 2-yard TD run from Moses Aguilar and Johnny Stensvad's point-after kick. And on Middle Park's next possession, the Panthers capped a 10-play, 84-yard drive with Southway's 5-yard jaunt.
The Cardinals came back, though, puling to within 14-6 on a 74-yard TD pass from Tyler Scott to Trent Reidle. Then they put together their a methodical drive of their own, going 84 yards on 17 plays to knot the score at 14-all on Scott's TD pass to Stephan Padilla and Padilla's conversion catch.
Grand Valley nearly took the lead at halftime, getting a defensive stop and quickly driving from their own 34 to Middle Park's 7 with 14 seconds left. After a spiked ball and an incompletion, Scott floated a pass to Reidle in the back of the end zone that Reidle caught, but his left foot was halfway across the end line.
The Granby school finally snapped the tie in the fourth quarter, marching 64 yards in 5:58 to go up 21-14 on Southway's TD run with 3:07 remaining. The Cardinals turned the ball over on downs on their next possession, and Middle Park ran out the clock.
"If a play here or there goes differently, we're feeling a whole lot different about this game," Johnson said. "To go through what we went through is hard on any teenage boy, and especially a group of teenage boys. I thought we handled it with class."
Other Grand County games
The West Grand Mustangs traveled to Dove Creek for an eight-man football playoff contest. The Mustangs ended up losing to Dove Creek 39-12.
The Middle Park girls volleyball team also lost its playoff match.
Both teams are now finished for the season.
Look for more coverage in the Wednesday, Nov. 7, Sky-Hi News