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November 15, 2012 9:13 am

The Sports Guy: Running the table

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Hail to that Panther team and a hearty congratulations as well.

Ask just about anyone who has been in that position, and almost unanimously they’ll tell you that one of sports’ hardest accomplishments is to repeat as a champion. Sure, you have the advantage of having gone through it all and knowing what it takes, but you’re also in the position where it seems the whole darn world is rolling up its sleeves to take its best shot at you.

Contenders sometimes get overlooked. Defending champions never do.

That’s why, with the 2012 high school football season now squarely in the rear view mirror, one of its enduring images for me will be just how effortless the Panther program made this repeat championship appear. Until the final two games of the season against Green River in the semifinals and Star Valley in the 3A title game, Powell really hadn’t appeared challenged all year. I don’t think it was a case of the Panthers not getting other teams’ best effort from week to week.

This group was simply that much better.

We expected coming into the season that the Panthers would feature one of the strongest linebacking units in the state. We suspected the defensive line, with greater depth and so much returning experience, would be similarly staunch.

It was a refurbished secondary that stepped in behind that front seven, however, that truly made the defensive unit legendary. Final stat totals from the season haven’t been released yet. When they are, they’ll show the Panthers miles ahead of the rest of the state with regard to yards allowed per game, turnovers forced and points surrendered.

If defense wins championships, that’s a recipe for a whole lot of hardware.

Offensively, the Panthers were similarly dynamic, despite needing to replace virtually every skill position player that was on the roster one season earlier. At various points during the year, the Panthers demonstrated a speed running attack, an eye-popping passing game and a good old-fashioned slobberknocking power rushing attack.

When more than one of those features clicked under the Friday night lights, the Panthers were a sight to behold.

The Panthers also had several subtle factors that worked in their favor this season. How many early first-quarter turnovers did the team force on defense? How many second-quarter scoring explosions did the team produce in the final five minutes of the first half to demoralize opponents just before intermission?

Heck, rumor has it that the season was several weeks old before the Panthers’ team captains lost one of those 50-50 coin flips at the start of the game.

Powell was just minutes removed from a championship victory against Douglas in November 2011 when Powell head coach Jim Stringer gave me an off-the-record observation.

“I think we have the opportunity to be just as good, if not better, next season,” he said.

At the time, I was a bit skeptical considering some of the athleticism that was graduating in the spring. Score one for the ol’ ball coach though, because he was spot on. In a mythical battle of No. 1 2011 vs. No. 1 2012, put my money on 2012.

But that’s not the dialogue that will be taking place for very long. Attention will inevitably turn toward 2013, when the Panthers again should have a salty linebacking corps. Powell will again have a secondary to be reckoned with by opposing quarterbacks. The Panthers should welcome back a host of their skill position folks on offense.

Once again, when fall drills open, they’ll be sporting the target of defending champion and carrying the burden of a double-digit win streak. It will also be answering speculation about a possible unprecedented threepeat for Powell football.

So, for one last time, here’s a tip of the ballcap and a congratulations for the members of the two-time state champion Powell football program. Enjoy the accomplishment, because you earned it in a fashion few before you have. Bask in the glow of your achievements and the eventual cascade of post-season recognition that will arrive shortly.

But after that, be sure to buckle up and find your way back into the weight room this offseason. Championships are often earned December through July, and that line of challengers isn’t getting any shorter or less hungry.

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