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September 09, 2008 1:01 am

Over the top

Written by Tribune Staff

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A jubilant Gavin Mills leaps into the air along with teammate Ryan Brandt (right) at the conclusion of last Friday night's 13-7 victory by the Panthers against Worland. Tribune photo by David Dickey

Panthers use late scoring drive to edge Worland

One year after enduring a 3-6 mark and a quick exit from the Class 4A playoffs, the Powell High School Panthers are team with one thing in particular on their minds — redemption.

The fourth-ranked Panthers, facing a hard-nosed Worland team on the Warriors' own turf, left nothing to chance and didn't wait for the ball to take a bounce in their favor last Friday night in the Class 4A West matchup. Instead, they hunkered down and seized a golden opportunity to pick up a quality victory. And they did so in dramatic fashion, winning 13-7.

With the score tied at 7-7 and just moments after a missed field goal attempt by Worland's Jon Gehrts, the Panthers took possession of the ball at their own 20-yard line with 10:26 left in the fourth quarter and embarked on a 14-play, 80-yard scoring march. The drive ended with senior quarterback Galen Mills leaping over the top of his surging offensive line and desperate Worland defenders trying to stand in his way. Chalk one up for the Panthers because Mills reached paydirt and put PHS ahead 13-7 with 3:26 left to play with his one-yard touchdown plunge.

"It felt like four years of trying came down to that one play," Mills said after the game. "That one was all about our offensive line. They did what they had to do."

However, with more than three minutes remaining on the clock, the game was far from over. PHS's suffered a breakdown on the ensuing point-after touchdown attempt, and Drayson Bratt's kick was blocked. It left the Panthers in a precarious position and gave fifth-ranked Worland renewed hope.

Worland, following a short kickoff return, went to work at its own 30. The Warriors notched a first down at the PHS 43 with 2:05 remaining and advanced as far as its own 46. But on a third-and-eight situation, an incomplete pass by Warrior quarterback Bill Douzenis left the game hinging on one play. Once again, the Warriors turned to the arm of Douzenis. On fourth down, the quarterback rolled to his left only to be chased by PHS's Rustin Myrick. Douzenis was finally tracked down by PHS defensive lineman Zach Wagner for an 11-yard loss.
With the ball turned over on downs and less than a minute left on the clock, the Panthers simply had to kneel on the ball and run out the remaining time.

"It felt so good," Mills said. "More than anything, I'm just glad for the whole team after last year. There's a sense of confidence in this senior class, and everybody is playing together. There's also a lot of trust among us, and I think that's going to help throughout the season."

Friday's game started with Worland taking the opening kick and driving to the Panther 24-yard line. At that point, the Warriors faced a fourth-and-11. Douzenis fired a pass to Steven Soderstrom, but he was dropped just inches short of a first down. During that drive, WHS notched two first downs. They would only notch two more the rest of the game.

The Panther offense opened its first drive with four rushes that moved the ball 30 yards and into Worland territory. The Panthers went to the air on two of its next three plays and suffered incomplete passes on both attempts. However, a seven-yard run by Auston Carter sandwiched between those failed pass attempts, put the Panthers in fourth-and-three scenario. PHS went for the first down, but Mills was sacked back at the WHS 48.

Worland's offense managed to enter Panther territory but was forced to punt from the PHS 42. Powell took over at its 21 but moved backwards on second down when PHS slot back Trevor Donarski was dropped for an eight-yard loss. Facing third-and-16, the Panthers attempted a screen pass, and a leaping Warrior, Robert Hyer, batted the ball high into the air. It fell into the arms of defensive lineman Neil Lockard, who returned the ball 12 yards and to the PHS one-yard line.

On the following play, Douzenis scored on a one-yard quarterback sneak with 3:52 remaining in the opening quarter. Gehrts added the PAT, and Worland led 7-0.

Powell responded with a 28-yard kick return by Billy Harshman. His effort gave PHS the ball at the Panther 36 and in good field position. PHS drove the ball to the Worland 28 before the quarter ended and facing second-and-two.

Powell, still with possession of the ball, started the second quarter with Brandon Sullivan rushing for eight yards and an apparent first down. His effort was erased by a holding penalty that left the Panthers facing a second-and-seven from their own 33. PHS then got three yards on a rush by Harshman and picked up the first down when Galen Mills connected with his brother, Gavin Mills, for a 20-yard gain. With the ball at WHS's 10, Powell turned to Harshman and Sullivan. Harshman rushed for four yards, and Sullivan almost reached the end zone on his rushing attempt but fumbled after a hard hit. Donarski alertly pounced on the ball just shy of the end zone. On the next play, Galen Mills scored the first of his two touchdowns on the night. Bratt followed with the PAT to tie the score at 7-7 with 8:53 left before halftime.

Each team had two more possessions in the second quarter, but neither was able to break the deadlock before halftime.
In the third quarter, Worland had an opportunity to move ahead, thanks to a blocked punt deep in Powell territory that left the Warriors in PHS's red zone. Two plays with negative yardage and an incomplete forced WHS to settle for a 42-yard field goal attempt which failed.

The Panthers answered with a drive that took them from their own 20 to the Warrior 26, but the potential scoring march ended with Soderstrom breaking up a pass to Donarski on fourth down.

On Worland's next drive, Cody Smith escaped for a 42-yard run on a reverse to the Powell 31. The Warriors advanced as far as the PHS 15 before settling for a field goal attempt by Gehrts, who once again missed his mark with 10:26 left in the fourth quarter. From there, Powell went on its game-winning drive.

For the game, Galen Mills finished as the leading rusher for Powell with 84 yards on 27 carries. He also completed four of 11 passes for 54 yards. He did so despite a heavily bandaged left hand, which he injured during PHS's scrimmage with Hardin the week before the matchup with the Warriors.

Others getting rushing attempts for Powell included Harshman (12 carries for 38 yards), Donarski (5-36), Sullivan (4-24), Carter (2-16) and Cody Kalberer (4-1). Kalberer also was credited with gaining the yard needed on a fourth-and-inches play during PHS's game winning drive. Overall, PHS gained 199 yards on 54 attempts.

The receiving effort was led by Gavin Mills' two catches for 27 yards. Sullivan added one catch for 15 yards, and Brandt hauled in one pass for 12 yards.

Stringer credited the offensive line and the receiver corps for providing solid blocking throughout the game.

“Matt McArthur, Zach Wagner, Drewe Metzler, Rustin Myrick, and Tyler Showalter did a great job,” Stringer said. “Randy Bullinger also got in for about 25 or 30 snaps and made some great plays for us. I was really proud of him for what he was able to do. He played a supporting role and just had a great performance. Those guys opened things up for our inside game.

“Our receivers also did a great job blocking, and that was a big factor in the success we had with our sweeps.”
Worland was limited to 77 yards on 24 rushes. In the passing department, Douzenis completed seven of 12 passes for 36 yards.
Defensively, PHS was led by Donarski's 17 defensive points. He finished with eight tackles. McArthur and Matt Kifer each finished with 11 defensive points. Brandt added six defensive points with two tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

• Up next: The Panthers (1-0, 1-0) will travel to face Buffalo Friday night at 6 p.m.