The Watervliet Panthers claimed their third district football title in nine years Friday, winning a wild one at home over Delton Kellogg, 58-50. The game saw similarities to their 58-44 week six battle, which was 30-30 at halftime compared to this game’s 30-29 halftime score.
After forcing Delton Kellogg to punt on their opening drive, Watervliet quarterback Zack Pickens found a 52-yard touchdown pass to Bryant Kieft and a two-point pass to Garrett Matthews for an 8-0 lead. DK got a big pass of their own only a few plays later as Josh Lyons found a wide open Max Swift for a 55-yard score. The extra-point kick made it 8-7 midway through the first quarter.
Watervliet’s second drive led to a second touchdown, a 59-yard passing score from Pickens to Trent Boone. A failed two-point try put the score at 14-7, where it stayed until early in the second. Delton Kellogg put together an 11-play, 69-yard drive and scored on a fourth and goal with a one-yard Swift rush, tying the game at 14-14.
Watervliet scored again quickly, using a screen pass to Kieft for a 73-yard score. A two-point pass to Matthews pushed it to 22-14 with 8:33 in the second. DK responded with a 41-yard Swift rushing touchdown and used a trick pass to the long snapper Ethan Reed for the two and a 22-22 tied game.
The next Watervliet drive had a rarity, a Watervliet turnover. Pickens fumbled with Lyons recovering the ball at the DK 20. Four plays later, a 65-yard Swift run gave Delton Kellogg their first lead with 1:43 before halftime, 29-22. The big-play Watervliet offense struck back 49 seconds later on a 26-yard pass from Pickens to Matthews. They hooked up again for the two for a 30-29 Watervliet lead.
A great kick return by Lyons put DK 35 yards from the end zone with 45 seconds to work with. They made it as close as the eight and had one last shot at the end zone before halftime, but Lyons was intercepted at the goal line by Pickens, keeping the halftime score 30-29.
Watervliet started with the ball in the third but quickly lost it on a fumbled exchange, recovered by Tyden Ferris. Watervliet then evened the takeaway battle with the biggest one of the night, as linebacker Anthony Wade ripped the ball out of the hands of Alex Diggs and took it 80 yards to the end zone.
“Just to rip the ball out of the dude’s hands, it took a lot out of me, but I had to do it for the team, I had to fight it out,” said Wade after the game. The score, plus the two-point conversion, put Watervliet ahead 38-29.
Delton Kellogg responded with an 11-play, 76-yard scoring drive capped off with a one-yard Swift rush. Their two-point try failed, putting the score at 38-35 with 2:05 remaining in the third. Before the end of the frame, Watervliet was back up by two scores with an eight-yard pass from Pickens to Matthews. The two-point toss to Kieft gave Watervliet a 46-35 lead entering the fourth quarter.
DK was stopped on a turnover on downs and Watervliet took a three-possession lead with an 18-yard pass from Pickens to Jakob Aldrich. A failed two-point try put the score at 52-35 with 7:15 remaining. Delton Kellogg wouldn’t go down without a fight, scoring less than two minutes later on a 35-yard Lyons rush. He added another two on the ground and got the score to 52-43.
Watervliet kept the game out of reach with an 11-yard Pickens rushing touchdown with 2:15 remaining for a 58-43 score after a failed two-point try. Delton Kellogg had one last gasp, scoring with 11 seconds remaining on a 31-yard pass by Lyons to Anton Blomgren. DK couldn’t get the ball back on the kickoff, putting the final tally at 58-50.
Unofficially, Pickens was 16-17 passing for 390 yards and six touchdowns, his first career game with six passing TDs. He added 109 rushing on 22 attempts and a touchdown. Kieft had nine grabs for 232 yards and two scores.
“We have a wealth of talent at the skill positions right now,” said Watervliet coach Jeremy Andrews. “Anybody who has seen Zack throw the football knows that he can throw. He throws an absolutely beautiful ball, highly catchable. And our receivers made some big plays tonight.”
For Delton Kellogg, Swift finished with 187 rush yards on 17 attempts with three rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown, plus easily double-digit tackles defensively. Lyons was 3-5 passing for 93 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He rushed for 89 yards.
Delton Kellogg finishes the season at 6-5. Watervliet improves to 11-0 and will play in the Regional final for the third time in nine years. They meet defending Division 6 state champion Jackson Lumen Christi, who ended their 2016 campaign in the Pre-District round 55-28.
“We’ve got to play the 11 guys on the field, not the name on the jersey and the mystique. We don’t have to beat their history and their pedigree,” said Andrews. “I said at the beginning of season, I think that we’re good as anybody and if we play well, we can win every game. I believe that, absolutely 100 percent going into next week.”
Watervliet and Lumen Christi’s Regional final will be played at Watervliet with the date and time to be announced. Watervliet has only made it past the Regional final once before, making it to the 1979 state championship. You can listen to the Regional final next week live online on the Slocum Sports Network.
Listen back to the District final below: