If there is such a thing as a football buffet then the Delta-Evergreen game was a smorgasboard.
From distinct changes in momentum plus a series of heroes showing up on each side, the last being Delta kicker Phil Smithers who knocked home a 23-yard field goal inside the left upright on the last play of the game to give the Panthers a 23-21 league win over the Vikings Friday at Pifer Field.
“We told them keep playing,” Delta Coach Nate Ruple said after Evergreen rebounded from a 14-point deficit to take a lead. “Keep playing. Play after play, keep playing. I’m just proud of our senior leadership and those guys, Phil Smithers with a game-winning field goal, I’m proud of him and all those guys on the PAT-field goal team that did the job.”
Riley Dunbar vaulted the Vikings in front when the junior receiver took the opening kickoff back 92 yards for a score and a 6-0 Evergreen lead.
However, the Delta defense stepped up and took control of the game, putting the clamps on the Viking offense.
After a series of stops, the Panthers put together a late first quarter drive behind the legs of Jerremiah Wolford, who ate up chunks of yardage like Joey Chestnut chews up hot dogs.
Wolford’s two first downs runs helped put the Panthers in position for James Ruple’s scoring run from two yards away in the first 10 ticks of the second quarter and Smithers’ PAT gave Delta a 7-6 lead.
After the ensuing kickoff, a bad snap caused a Viking fumble that gave the Panthers prime position near the red zone, and again it was Wolford pounding inside, scoring from five yards out and a 14-6 Delta lead with 9:51 left in the half.
The Panthers took the opening possession of the second half and ran four and a half minutes off the clock on a 75-yard drive that finished with Wolford’s 28-yard scoring run that put the Panthers in what seemingly was a comfortable 20-6 lead.
That margin lasted all of 15 seconds.
Colton Robertson took the kickoff at the five and cut right to left, angling across the grain before turning the corner and outracing Delta defenders 95 yards to paydirt. With Hunter Vaculik’s two-point run, Evergreen chopped the lead to 20-14.
A Delta fumble later in the quarter was recovered by TJ Johnson, giving the Vikings a chance to come all the way back and Evergreen made good on the opportunity.
Vaculik bulled twice for chunk plays for first downs to put the Vikes in a goal-to-goal.
Then a play that began as a false start and after a whistle, ended four seconds later when Vaculik was slammed to the ground by a Delta defender, a move that resulted in a personal foul flag and an injury to Vaculik. Robertson would come up big again.
Two plays into the fourth, with Robertson taking the snaps, the Viking sophomore darted over the right side for a score and Matt Hassen’s extra point brought Evergreen from 14 down to a 21-20 lead.
“They played really hard over there on that side of the field,” Ruple said of Evergreen. “They battled their butts off. They were sending people all over the place and to be honest they had us kind of on our heels.”
After a pair of stops, the Vikings had a chance to put the game away.
One first down got the Vikings inside the Delta 35, and they came close to another when on fourth-and two, Max Mossing rushed to near the sticks.
But, the ball was marked short and the Panthers took over.
On a first-and-17, and under heavy pressure, Ruple threw up a jump ball between three players that was knocked to the turf. However, a pass interference call gave the Panthers a first-and-two and Wolford began on yet another course of eating up yardage.
Two 10-plus yard runs by the big senior set up Smithers for the possible game winner with two ticks left, and after a Viking timeout, the senior kicker knocked it home to give Delta the victory.
“We count on him a lot to get the big yards,” Ruple said of Wolford. “He eats up a lot of yards and a lot of clock for us offenisvely. I’m just proud of all our seniors. They are a great group, they love the game of football and show it, and they are a fantastic group to work with.”
Wolford consumed 134 yards on 23 totes out of Delta’s total offense of 285. Evergreen had 165 yards.
Delta is now 3-1 on the season, while Evergreen drops to 2-2.