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October 16, 2008 3:37 am

Friday's gridiron matchup contains plenty of subplots

Written by Tribune Staff

If you're a high school football fan, Panther Stadium is definitely the place to be Friday night when Powell High School and Lovell kick off at 7 p.m.

This matchup is intriguing for a number of reasons. For starters, it will be a homecoming of sorts for first-year Lovell head coach Ken Boatwright. Longtime residents of Powell will remember Boatwright as a former Deaver and PHS coach who took over a struggling Panther program in 1976 and built a team that went 7-1 in 1978 and was a contender for the state title. It was Powell's best season since a 9-0 mark during 1967.

Following that breakout year for PHS in 1978, Boatwright moved on to Riverton, and he promptly put the Wolverines in the state championship game in his first season at the helm. Riverton lost to Cheyenne Central in that title matchup, but at that time, it was clear that Boatwright was a coach who could motivate players and get the most out of them.

Boatwright's coaching career has taken him to many locales. Prior to taking over the helm of the Bulldogs during the summer, Boatwright was coaching at Archie High School in the small town of Archie, Mo. However, when the opportunity to return to the Big Horn Basin came along, Boatwright couldn't pass on the chance to return to a place he says has always held special meaning for him.

Boatwright, who also has worked in the oil industry and as a hospital administrator since his coaching stint in Powell in the late 1970s, said during an interview last summer that being able to return to this area is a dream come true for him. He loves Wyoming, and he said it was an honor to once again be a part of the state's coaching fraternity.

His return has been a major plus for Lovell. The Bulldogs, after losing their first two games of the season, have reeled off four straight victories, and they've done so in impressive fashion, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. They averaged almost 45 points per game during that winning clip and are ranked third in Class 3A. Progress has been made, but Boatwright knows Friday will be a good measuring stick as to how far his Bulldogs have come. They will enter Powell with new-found confidence and the goal of showing they can take down a major player in the classification one step above them.

“Coach Stringer and his staff have done a nice job this year,” Boatwright said. “I've seen them on film, and they are playing at a very high level. It's going to be a big challenge for us Friday night.”

Boatwright, who said he's still a Panther football fan with the exception of one Friday night during the season, also said he's looking forward to stepping onto the field again in Powell — the same field that was his home away from home for the three seasons he was the Panthers' head coach. He knows fond memories will fill his mind as he enters the stadium, and he's excited to bump into old friends. Of course, all that nostalgia will take a backseat once the opening kickoff is airborne.

For Powell, this game is big mainly because a victory would give them momentum heading into their Oct. 24 battle with Class 4A, West Conference rival Cody. That game, if Cody defeats Lander this weekend, will be for the West Conference crown and homefield advantage in the playoffs.

Like Lovell, the Panthers are on a roll right now. Since losing 19-14 to a much-improved Lander squad, the Panthers have won consecutive games against Star Valley and Jackson. Those wins were huge, considering how Star Valley has dominated the Panthers this decade and when one takes into account how difficult it is to travel and defeat a Bronc team in Jackson Hole.

The Panthers showed a great deal of character and determination last week in overcoming a 14-3 halftime deficit to claim a 19-14 victory. Victories like that go a long way as far as confidence.

Powell's defense blanked Jackson in the second half of that contest, and the offense mounted several clutch scoring drives, including one of more than 70 yards in the game's final minutes. Lovell's offense has been stellar in recent weeks, but you can bet the Panther offense is looking to show they too can put up some big numbers.

So once again, the gridiron and community pride of Powell and Lovell will be put on the line. It's Powell's kids against Lovell's kids. In many cases, it will be friends against friends. It's the big dog (or Panther in this case) against the underdog.

Each player on both sides will give it everything they have in an attempt to gain bragging rights for a year. It's Lovell versus Powell. It's big-time, small-town football. See you there.