The Cortez Panthers fifth grade team has made it to the Youth Football superbowl Championship game.
The Panthers, 8-0-1 face their rival the Aztec Tigers, 8-0-1, Saturday at the Navajo preparatory School field in Farmington, 1220 W. Apache St. Kickoff is at 5 p.m.
The game will be broadcast live at https://www.facebook.com/desertsports.live
The Panthers beat Bayfield in the first round of the playoffs and the Farmington Storm in the second round to make it to the superbowl.
“The kids play with a lot of heart. Our defense is one of the best in the league,” said coach Dante Sanchez. “The team is all second year players, they learn well and bring it to the field.”
Cortez Youth Football has not had a team in the superbowl since 2016 and last brought home the trophy in 2015.
The playoff against Farmington last week went to six overtimes, with the Panthers punching it into the end zone from the 1-yard line for the win as time ran out.
“It was an insane game, the team really played for each other, stayed tough together,” Sanchez said.
During their regular season matchup the Panthers and Tigers tied 6-6. The Panthers are especially motivated because last year they lost to the Tigers in the semifinals.
“We lost by one, so revenge is on their minds. They are very excited and ready for the game,” Sanchez said.
He said the game plan is sticking with what works: good defense and the run game.
The fifth grade team is made up players from elementary schools in Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1, and is led by quarterback Parker Spitzer of Kemper Elementary. The team includes one girl, who is on injured reserve. The have a roster of 17, down from 22 at the beginning of the season because of injuries.
“The boys are super-excited. It’s going to be a battle,” said Kiffany Pixler, Cortez Youth Football League board president. “We would love for the community to come down for the game and show our support. Let’s fill the stands with orange and black and scream our hearts out for the boys this weekend,” she said.
The third and fourth grade Panther football teams made it to the semifinals this year.
The Panthers play in the Four Corners Youth Association Football League, which includes Aztec, Bayfield, Bloomfield, Cortez, Dulce, Durango, Farmington, Ignacio, Kirtland, Montezuma Creek and Shiprock.
The league plays tackle football with 11-man teams. They practice three times per week at Parque de Vida in Cortez. They start the preseason playing flag football, before putting on the pads for tackle football.
“We’re trying to get more kids to join,” Sanchez said. “The youth team translates into talented players for future high school teams.”
Assistant coaches for the fifth grade team are Jason Howell, Joe Plunkett, Dominic Gustamantes, and Robert Smith.