ATTICA — In a heavyweight fight with both team’s exchanging haymakers, those in attendance could almost assume it would go down to the final possession. Delta retained possession trailing 32-28 with around a minute to go, but were unable to move it the roughly half the length of the field as they fell to Seneca East Saturday night in the opening round of the Division VI, Region 22 football playoffs.
The Panthers started the final drive at their own 47-yard line, however, in an unfortunate turn of events, a steady rain began to fall when they were forced to take to the air.
They did pick up a first down on a 12-yard throw and catch from James Ruple to Bryar Knapp, taking it down to the Tigers’ 43-yard line. The Panthers then ran up to the line and spiked the ball with four seconds to go to set up a final play.
Nevertheless, Ruple could not get off his pass attempt as he was hit and lost the ball, ending the game.
“We knew we were going to have to play well to beat this team,” said Delta coach Nate Ruple after the game. “We knew they had size, and most importantly, they have playoff experience and playoff tradition. You know, they came right out and they punched us in the mouth. But I’m real proud of our kids. We responded and we ended up with the lead at halftime. Then, before you know it Seneca East comes out the second half and they punch us in the mouth. It was back and forth all night; that’s just the way it goes sometimes.
“I’m real proud of our football team. We didn’t win the game, but they showed a lot of character tonight. They gave it their best, and they did what they had to do. We just didn’t make a few plays. Just a little bit shy on a couple fourth downs that could have made the difference in the game.”
Although the end of the first half favored Delta, Seneca East outscored the Panthers 18-7 in the second.
First, the Tigers forced a Delta three-and-out. On the other end, they would turn it into points on quarterback Gavin Hargis’ 43-yard scamper on fourth-and-1. But, the extra point was missed to keep Delta ahead 21-20 with 7:06 left in the third quarter.
Delta responded with a score less than two minutes later.
A 33-yard run by Jerremiah Wolford set them up at the Seneca East 29. Two plays later, Wolford finished it off with a 26-yard burst and Austin Kohlhofer’s extra point bumped the Panther lead to 28-20 at the 5:37 mark.
The Tigers would deliver their corresponding blow on the ensuing possession.
The drive took roughly four minutes off the clock, but the Panthers almost stalled it at the three. A fumbled snap from Hargis on third-and-goal set up fourth-and-goal at the three, where Hargis rolled right and found Mason Foos in the end zone for the touchdown. The Tigers’ two-point conversion pass fell incomplete and Delta clung to a 28-26 advantage after three quarters.
Delta, behind the running of Wolford and fellow sophomore Bryar Knapp, advanced down inside the Tiger 25. On fourth-and-4 at the 23, Ruple kept it and got to the 20 but it was short of the first down with 9:13 remaining in the game.
Seneca East then drove 80 yards in just north of three minutes, a drive that ended with Jesse Beckman running in a toss left from 21 yards out. This put them up in what ended up being the final score, 32-28.
“We were able to move the ball on them. We were able to control the ball for the most part. The issue was that, the quarterback (Hargis) played a nice game for them. They’ve got some nice receivers on the edge. And, like I said, hats off to them,” said coach Ruple.
The Tigers jumped out hard on the Panthers to begin the game, building a 14-0 lead in the first half of the opening quarter. Their first blow was the opening kickoff, a 95-yard touchdown return by Luke Bischoff and Brandon Hines’ extra point made it 7-0 19 seconds in.
After a Delta three-and-out, the Tigers struck again with 5:28 left in the first on a Brock Ferres 8-yard run around the left end.
Delta responded before quarter’s end thanks to a 14-yard run by Wolford, slicing the Tiger lead in half, 14-7, with 26 ticks to go.
A failed hook and lateral attempt by Seneca East gave the Panthers back possession. Knapp then ripped off a 68-yard run, putting the ball at the Tiger four. Ruple would squeeze his way into the end zone two plays later, but a missed extra point kept Seneca East in front 14-13.
Delta and coach Ruple reached into its bag of tricks on the ensuing kick, going for the onside and recovering it at the Tiger 42.
They utilized the legs of Wolford and Knapp to get the go-ahead score. Knapp ran for approximately 34 yards on the drive, the last a TD run from inside of a yard. Ruple would connect with Knapp for the two-point conversion, giving Delta a 21-14 lead with 2:49 before halftime.
“Bryar’s a sophomore and he’s gonna be a special player,” said the Panther coach. “He’s been our split end for the entirety of the season. Due to injuries, we decided to move him to the backfield and that’s his more natural position. He’s not a big kid but I tell you what, for what he lacks in size he makes up with heart. Played a real good football game tonight. And, you know so did our sophomore fullback too, Jerremiah Wolford.”
Delta fell to 3-4 on the season. They will host Evergreen (0-7) for a non-league contest this Friday.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010