Note: Delta finished with a 4-6 overall record in 2013 and tied for fifth in 3A South with a 1-4 record. It did not qualify for the playoffs
DELTA — The Delta Rabbits have a chip on their shoulders.
Their 38-year playoff appearance streak came to an end last year when North Sanpete’s Justin Lee booted a 37-yard field goal on the final play of the regular season.
It’s a play Delta coach Russ Fowles insists never should’ve unfolded the way it did had the refs managed the game correctly in those final seconds.
“We felt we kind of got cheated out of being there. We thought we’d won the game and there was a little controversy at the end of that,” said Fowles. “That’s our battle cry this year, that we have unfinished business to attend to, and the kids have responded very well to that.”
The last time Delta missed the playoffs was 1974, but it responded in 1975 with a 12-0 record and a 2A state championship — one of nine in school history.
Delta is hoping for a similar turnaround 39 years later.
“That left a sour taste in our mouth and I think we’re all ready to come back and show them what we can do,” said Delta quarterback Bracken Lovell.
Coach Fowles believes that Lovell along with a pair of returning starters on the offensive line will help get Delta back in the playoffs and beyond.
“At end of last year he was really starting to come into his own and starting to make the right reads,” said Fowles. “There’s that split-second decision he’s got to make whether he’s going to pitch the ball or whether he’s going to carry it. If he makes that decision right then he’s a hero and if he doesn’t then he’s not a hero. He got to where he was making that decision very well.”
Most of the time last year Lovell was getting the ball in the hands of running backs Morgan Bogue, Kale Leavitt and Riley Nielson — but all three graduated. This year he needs to take on some of that responsibility himself with a brand new corps of running backs surrounding him.
Fowles still expects big things from the newcomers, particularly Victor Almanza. An all-state defensive back a year ago, Almanza will double dip this year and play an increased role offensively.
“He’s going to be a huge part of our offense. We’re looking at him to run the ball a lot,” said Fowles.
Offensive balance is always important in the inverted wishbone offense, but so is having a go-to guy. Delta finished with a losing record in each of the past two years, and not surprisingly it lacked a 1,000-yard rusher both years.
Delta’s last 1,000-yard rusher was Christian Hatch in 2011. He ran for 1,265 yards that season to lead his team to a 10-2 record and a quarterfinal appearance.
“We’re going to have to find players to fill in around them because we did graduate quite a few seniors last year. But I think we have the tools. I think we’ll be a little bigger up front than we were last year,” said Fowles.
At the end of the day, though, no matter what Delta does offensively this year, correcting the defensive embarrassment from a year ago is the top priority. Even though it had decent showings against teams like Grantsville and Richfield, three games in particularly stand out as black eyes — 56 points to Judge, 50 to Juab and 45 to Canyon View.