Panthers West Slope League champions

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Matt Scoggins Photo

RANGELY | Western Slope League Champions is a phrase that has not been used toward the Rangely High School football team for some time, and that has now changed. By defeating the Gilpin County Eagles Saturday in Rangely to a score of 28-20, the Panthers can now call themselves league champions. The team, however, is not satisfied with just that title for the year. The Panthers will enter the Colorado 8-man football playoffs as the five seed overall and travel to the number four see Dove Creek on Saturday, Nov. 21 to take on the Bulldogs at 1:30 p.m. The Bulldogs are a familiar foe to the Panthers as they have matched up for a non-league game in recent years. The Panthers have won the previous four match-ups and will look to keep that streak going.

The Gilpin County game switched from taking place in Blackhawk to Rangely on account of both coaching staff so that both teams were allowed to have fans attend the game. The Gilpin County seniors were honored before by the Rangely community and football members with senior gift bags. The opening kickoff came after the pregame festivities, and the Panthers came out looking to secure the league championship in impressive form.

After forcing the Eagles to punt after their first three offensive plays, the Panthers drove down into the red zone, but the drive fizzled on a holding call that brought back a scoring run by junior Zane Varner. The Panthers could not complete their next two passing attempts and turned the ball over on downs to the Eagles. The Panther defense reacted quickly on the Eagle’s first play and forced the Eagles to fumble their first play. Junior Timothy Scoggins caused the fumble, and the recovery by senior Gabe Polley was just what the Panther offense needed to get the ball back into their hands. The Panther offense then drove 38 yards on four plays to score the first touchdown of the game. Varner took the handoff through the right side of the Panther’s powerful frontline and score. Varner also punched in the two-point conversion to make the score 8-0 in favor of the Panthers.

Gilpin County fielded the short kickoff from the Panthers, and the Panthers recorded two straight tackles for loss by Scoggins and Polley and forced the Eagles into a long third-down. One the long third-down play, the Eagles attempted a pass. Still, Scoggins and Polley’s tremendous pressure forced an early throw by the Eagles quarterback, and senior Ryan Richens was able to step in front of the errant pass and intercept it. Richens then raced 51 yards down the Gilpin County sideline to put the Panthers up 14-0. The 2-point conversion failed for the Panthers on the next play.

The Eagles then tied the game up quickly on two plays by their very fast backfield that proved to be hard to tackle for the Panthers all game. With the game tied at 14-14, the Panther offense went back to work with little time left in the second quarter and marched 67 yards for the touchdown run by senior Anthony Lujan. The Panthers two-point conversion failed on the next play, and the score stood at 20-14 at the end of the first half of the game.

The third quarter proved to be a juggernaut of a quarter for both teams as neither team could score. The Panther offense had success rushing the ball, but untimely penalties would halt Panther drives and force them to turn the ball over to the Eagles. The Panther defense kept the Eagles on their heels the entire third quarter and continued their physical play style that the Panther coaching staff loves about the defense.

Matt Scoggins Photo

In the fourth quarter, the Panther offense finally put the ball into the endzone on a crazy play. Lujan dropped back to pass the ball, but the Gilpin County Eagles blitzed their middle linebacker. The blitz put four Eagle pass rushers against three Panther blockers. Lujan quickly recognized this blitz and stepped up in the quickly collapsing pocket. With two Gilpin County defenders hanging on Lujan, he fired a 40-yard pass to senior Ryan Richens, who then scampered down the Panther sideline for 52 more yards. The Panthers capped the drive with a successful 2-point conversion to put the Panthers up 28-20 with under two minutes left. The game ended on an exciting note as the Panther defense proved strong once again and did not allow the Eagles to gain a first down on the final drive. The Panthers capped off their undefeated regular season and their first outright league championship in over 20 years.

Offensively for the Panthers, Varner led all rushers with 102 yards on 23 attempts, one touchdown, and two 2-point point conversions. Lujan was next in rushing yards for the Panthers as he had his best rushing game all year with 25 rushing attempts and 100 yards, and one touchdown. Richens also ran the ball nine times for Rangely and amassed 75 rushing yards, and scored two touchdowns (one receiving and one defensively). Richens also had 91 yards receiving for the Panthers.

Defensively the Panthers were led by Scoggins, who had 13 solo tackles. Five of those tackles resulted in a loss of yards, including one sack. Scoggins now has seven sacks on the year, tying Scoggins for second in all of Colorado 8-man football. Polley was next in tackles for the Panthers as he notched nine total tackles and three tackles for loss. Richens was next with eight solo tackles, and one interception returned for a touchdown.

The Panthers will travel to Dove Creek on Saturday, Nov. 21, to take on the Bulldogs in the quarterfinal playoff game. With a win against the Bulldogs, the Panthers would host the semi-final game in Rangely, and a win there would send the Panthers to Pueblo to compete for a state championship on Thursday, Dec. 3 at 6 p.m.

This is a drone shot of the “Thunderbowl” at CSU-Pueblo where all of this year’s high school football championships will be played in Denver. Details are on page 1B. | COURTESY PHOTO