It was a great start but a disappointing finish for the Montezuma-Cortez High School football team Friday night.
In the middle, the Panthers did what they had to do to stay in the game in front of the homecoming crowd.
The Alamosa Mean Moose ripped off 18 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to wrap up a 35-20 victory.
Alamosa used a physical run-stopping defensive effort and a 192 yards rushing from junior Cole Martinez, to methodically pull away from the Panthers.
Even with dominating the run game on both sides of the ball, Alamosa couldn't put away the young, feisty Panthers until the fourth quarter.
M-CHS couldn't have gotten off to a better start. On the first play of the game, a M-CHS defender pounced on a fumble at the 26.
Two runs later, both by Trenton Gustafson, the Panthers had a 7-0 lead. He was virtually untouched on the 12-yard TD run.
But that was virtually the last open space M-CHS runners saw in the game.
“We came out on fire, got the fumble and punched it in. But we knew this is a good football team and they were going to put points on the board,” said M-CHS coach Casey Coulter.
Trailing 17-7, M-CHS had scrapped the running game and were relying on freshman quarterback Jonathan Walck to find open receivers.
Two plays into the fourth, the young signal caller capped a 75-yard dive with a spectacular touchdown throw to Chaz Thompson. The gorgeous high-arching pass dropped into Thompson's hands in the left corner of the end zone to pull the Panthers to 17-14. The TD toss came on a third-and-9.
On the drive, Thompson also puled in a 42-yard catch and run. The junior finished with 98 yards on six catches, but left the game with an injury shortly after his TD catch.
“Our young guys really stepped up tonight. Jonathan Walck, I couldn't ask for a better game from him,” Coulter said.
Every time the Panthers climbed close, the Mean Moose stifled any comeback with an answer. The answer following Thompson's score was a resounding knockout blow as the Mean Moose nabbed a pair of turnovers and ran off 18-straight points.
A 42-yard field goal by Zakry Thompson on the next possession was followed by an a quick interception by Jacob Heaton and the Mean Moose were on the move again.
Quarterback Zach Meyer slashed around right end for 20 yards and a score, and his 2-point conversion run gave Alamosa a 28-14 lead with 6:19 to play.
A final score after another Panther turnover gave Alamosa a 35-14 lead.
M-CHS got a late one-yard score from Walck to cap the night's scoring.
The Panther's defense, behind the physical play of seniors Stephen Candelaria and Kody Deavers, played well for much of the game, but Alamosa's big play offense kept nabbing first downs.
In the first quarter, after driving 70 yards in 14 plays, the Mean Moose were inside the 10. But the Panther's defense was up to the challenge.
After a big stop by 240-pound defensive lineman Candelaria, Thompson and Tam Phan teamed up to thud Alamosa's try from the one. On fourth-and-goal from about four inches away, Candelaria and the defensive line walled off the inside and stuffed the run at the goal line.
The excitement of the defensive stand was short-lived. On the next play, Alamosa's defense stormed the backfield and swallowed up Phan for a safety to make the score 7-2.
Phan, the speedy junior, found little running room throughout the game. With the Mean Moose defenders packing the interior of the line, the Panther's run game was held to less than 70 yards.
Walck and the passing game found success however. Walck hit eight of his first nine passes and finished 12 of 21 for 149 yards and one TD.
For Alamosa, the first half was a story of four fourth downs.
After getting stuffed at the goal line, Alamosa had a fourth-down conversion nullified by a penalty, then a personal foul penalty on the defense gave the Panthers a first down.
Approaching halftime, Alamosa was driving when M-CHS's Deavers and freshman Alex Fernandez pounded Martinez to the turf for a four-yard loss to force a fourth down from the 23.
On this fourth down, Alamosa turned in a scintillating play. Meyer, who had 185 yard total offense for the Mean Moose, rifled a bullet to Heaton on a deep slant pattern. The pass popped the receiver right between the numbers and he darted into the end zone to give Alamosa its first lead at 10-7.
In the third, Alamosa converted another fourth down, this time on a 14-yard run off a fake punt. The Panther's defense stiffened and kept the game close when Phan snatched a tipped pass in the end zone for an interception to halt the drive.
Coulter said he was pleased with the way the Panthers played at times.
“We may have lost the game tonight but we had some small victories out there and we have to build on that.”
The loss dropped the Panthers to 1-6 on the season. They will be back in action Friday, Oct. 14 at Pagosa Springs.