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Panthers blank Bobcats, extend winning streak

M-CHS moves to 4-1 for first time in more than two decades

Keep adding to the list of trend-breaking achievements for the Montezuma-Cortez High School football team.

The Panthers (4-1) sit three games above .500 for the first time since 2014 – the program’s last winning season – thanks to a 42-0 shutout of Ignacio.

Just as important, the program is riding a wave of momentum as their league schedule waits on the horizon, beginning with a visit from Salida on Friday, Sept. 30 for Homecoming.

Balance on offense – four Panthers found the end zone – and a sack-filled outing on defense kept the visiting Bobcats (2-1) off-balance and off the scoreboard.

Caden Cote and Tay Wheat celebrate after a Panther touchdown Friday night against Ignacio.(Sam Green/Special to The Journal)
Shyoki Knapp catches a pass in the end zone for a Panther score Friday night against Ignacio. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)

Playing on their home turf for the first time in almost a month, head coach Ivan Mack’s Panthers came out fired up from the opening kickoff in front of a sizable crowd at Panther Stadium. After stuffing the Bobcats and forcing a punt on the opening possession, M-CHS wasted little time getting their offense in gear.

On the second play from scrimmage, senior quarterback Jake Blackmer found fleet-footed receiver Zander Cruzan with a screen pass. Thanks to a big downfield block from sophomore Tay Wheat, Cruzan broke free, and no one would catch the senior en route to a 62-yard score.

Ignacio responded with some offensive spark, as quarterback John Riepel churned out a drive into Panther territory using running backs Lincoln Dekay and Nathan Hendren for quick-hitting rushes. Inside the Panthers 30, however, the drive stalled, as the Panthers ramped up the pressure, led by a Caden Cote sack.

Cote, from his linebacker spot, joined a chorus of M-CHS defenders that made the evening miserable for Riepel and the Bobcats offense. Sophomores Braiden Seymore and Aden Ray, along with juniors Marcus Harris, Miles Frost and Hunter Goodall took turns raiding the Bobcat backfield on a night where the Panthers dominated the line of scrimmage.

“They stepped it up tonight,” said Mack of his defensive line, “and we had so many different guys really bring that intensity.”

Opening up holes for linebackers like sophomore Shyoki Knapp, junior Dean York and senior Dorrian Hilliard, the defensive line commanded double-teams that left the space open for several other Panthers to break through.

“They’re doing the little things well – the technical things that we work on every day in practice,” added Mack about his front three, “and they’re really started to figure out their craft.”

While M-CHS kept the Bobcat offense at bay, the Panthers used a variety of looks to move the football down the field against Ignacio. Senior Ryder Higgins found paydirt on his first carry of the night, steaming around the left end from 15 yards out to double the Panther advantage. The Panthers O-line, led by senior Alec Manuel Jr., provided gaping holes for Higgins and the Panthers ground game all night.

M-CHS started to roll from there, as Blackmer fired one of his best passes of the night on a rope to sophomore Shyoki Knapp for a 27-yard score halfway through the second quarter, before Wheat provided another dazzling TD run right before halftime to give M-CHS a 28-0 lead at the intermission.

“Some of the different looks we provided were off the cuff,” said Mack of the variety of formations and play calls for the Panthers. “We wanted to see what they (Ignacio) were going to show us, and go from there.”

Ignacio’s most effective drive of the night came early in the second half, as they drove down to the Panthers 3-yard line. Riepel showcased his arm, with some fine passes to wideout Devante Montoya, while grinding out yards with designed QB runs. However, on fourth-and-1 at the 3, Riepel couldn’t force his way through the line, and the Panthers took over on downs.

From there, the Panthers steamrolled down the field, requiring six plays to move 97 yards, before Higgins raced in from eight yards to build the lead to 36-0. Two minutes later, the game moved to running clock, as Cruzan snagged his second TD grab of the night – the third overall touchdown pass for Blackmer – as the Panthers cemented their impressive night.

“We’ve still got a ways to go,” concluded Mack, “but we keep getting better and better.”

M-CHS looks forward to an exciting week, as Salida (3-2) makes the visit to Panther Stadium in the 2A Southwest League opener for both teams. With all of the Homecoming fanfare this week, the Panthers look to keep their focus on a Spartan squad that squeaked past the Panthers 36-34 a season ago. The contest can be heard on local radio station 98.7 FM KRTZ and online at krtzradio.com beginning at 6:30 with kickoff slated for 7 p.m.