The Panthers defense has one speed setting when they take the field – chaos.
Montezuma-Cortez threw countless blitz packages at an unsuspecting Kirtland Central offense, forced four turnovers, and kept the Broncos under 100 yards of total offense for 3½ quarters Friday night in Kirtland, New Mexico.
Add it all up, M-CHS (2-1) chalked up its first road win of the season, an emphatic 40-16 win on the road.
The offense exploded for three scores in a decisive second stanza, as the Panthers scored 34 unanswered points to climb back above .500.
“Our defense set the tone for the game,” said senior linebacker Caden Cote. “The D-line opened up holes for our linebackers, so we could get to their quarterback.”
After forcing the Broncos (1-2) to punt the ball on the game’s opening possession, the Panthers took over at their own 24-yard line. Sophomore Tay Wheat broke through the line on the first play from scrimmage, racing for 36 yards.
One play later, Wheat escaped around the left end, collecting the remaining 40 yards to paydirt to give M-CHS an early 6-0 edge on their explosive two-play drive.
Kirtland Central responded with a big aerial strike to tie the score moments later, but the Panthers remained unperturbed by the momentum shift. Starting the next drive at their own 25, the Panthers engineered a lengthy drive, with senior quarterback Jake Blackmer connecting with Wheat over the middle for a 22-yard score.
From there, the defense took over.
Cote punished Broncos quarterback Andrew Telkamp with one of his two sacks on the next drive, and the offense picked up where they left off.
A nearly five-minute drive, including a third-and-15 conversion mid-drive, set up the Panthers just outside the red zone. Then, on a post pattern, tight end Gabriel Crowley snared a Blackmer pass for the score from 21 yards out.
“Jake put it only where I could get it,” said Crowley of his score.
His day would only get better, as Crowley, in as a defensive back on the next drive, collected a pressured pass from Telkamp for an interception.
With just over two minutes before the break, the Panthers marched down the field again, thanks in large part to another slash-and-dash run from Wheat. As the final seconds ticked before halftime, M-CHS dialed up a quarterback keeper from Blackmer on fourth-and-eight, and the senior QB raced into the end zone to build the lead to 26-6.
Opening the second half with the ball, M-CHS required less than two minutes to score again, aided by a big catch-and-run for senior Dorrian Hilliard to push the ball into the red zone. Wheat finished the drive with a 9-yard run, his third TD of the night.
On a big night for the seniors, Zander Cruzan picked up an interception, again thanks to pressure from the defensive front three. The Panthers would need two plays to capitalize, as Hilliard powered his way into the end zone from 10 yards to balloon the lead to 40-6.
“We’ve been playing together since we were in the Titans program,” added Cote about the team’s development, “so we’re really tight – from the offensive line to our quarterback and all the players on the field.”
The Broncos produced the game’s final 10 points, but by that point, the Panthers had worked in a number of their second unit.
Wheat finished with nearly 300 yards of total offense, 187 rushing yards and 100 yards receiving, leaving the Kirtland players grasping at air all night. Blackmer threw for three scores and ran for another, finishing the night with 192 passing yards.
“It’s a different mentality this year,” said Crowley, “and we’ve all been committed all-in to this team.”
All four Panthers takeaways came via interceptions, as senior Ryder Higgins got into the act for the orange-and-black defense.
“Our defense set our offense up with some great opportunities,” said third-year head coach Ivan Mack. “When they’re playing well, they’re a really powerful unit.”
M-CHS rounds out their three-game road trip with a visit to Hotchkiss to take on North Fork on Friday, Sept. 16. They will then return home to face Ignacio on Sept. 23, in a contest that can be heard on local radio station 98.7 KRTZ and online at krtzradio.com.
“We’re on a roll right now,” said Cote, “but we’re still hungry to keep getting better.”