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September 30, 2008 3:00 am

Panther football upset by Lander

Written by Tribune Staff

Tigers top Panthers in 19-14 thriller

During week two of the high school football season, Lander knocked off then-No. 1 and defending 4A state champion Jackson. Last Friday, the Tigers picked up their second upset victory of the year by posting a 19-14 decision over the second-ranked Powell High School Panthers in Powell.

The unranked Tigers (2-2, 2-1), who entered the contest at Panther Stadium with the reputation of primarily being a run-oriented team, used a pair of long touchdown passes en route to the victory.

However, it was Lander's passing game which almost did them in late in the game.

The Tigers, ahead 13-7 and facing a third-and-seven situation just before the midway point of the fourth quarter, attempted a pass that landed in the hands of Panther defender Gavin Mills inside the PHS 10-yard line. With a hoard of blockers paving the way, Mills raced down the Powell sideline for a 93-yard touchdown.

PHS's Drayson Bratt added the all-important PAT to put the Panthers ahead 14-13 with 8:58 remaining in the game.

“I really thought that was going to be the turning point in the game,” said PHS head coach Jim Stringer. “But Lander did a good job of coming back and responding with a score of its own right after that.”

Just more than two minutes later, Lander struck back with a 55-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Garrett Irene to wide receiver Tyson Simon. The two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the Panthers with a 19-14 deficit with 5:37 left on the clock.

The Panthers (2-2, 1-1), on their ensuing drive, took over at their own 35 and steadily churned out yardage until they faced a third-and-two play at the Lander 20 with less than three minutes to play.

Powell went to the air, but quarterback Galen Mills' potential first-down pass landed in the hands of Lander's Matt Baker, who returned the ball to the Tigers' 37.

PHS needed a defensive stop to get the ball back in time for the offense to attempt another scoring drive, but Tiger running back Bret Klopp ended PHS's hopes of salvaging a victory when he ran for 14 yards on third-and-six. His gain picked up a first down and allowed the Tigers to run out the clock.

The Panthers, who proved to be their own worst enemy during the contest, dug a hole for themselves early in the third quarter. After taking the opening kickoff of the second half, the Panthers lost a fumble, which was recovered at the PHS 1. On the following play, Irene scored on a one-yard rush. Lander added the PAT for a 7-0 advantage.

PHS, however, answered the score on its next drive by marching 68 yards. The drive ended with Galen Mills throwing a 30-yard touchdown strike to Ryan Brandt. Bratt's PAT tied the score at 7-7 with 5:14 left in the third quarter.

Undaunted, Lander responded with its second touchdown of the night on the ensuing drive. This time Irene hit Baker in stride near the Lander sideline and the 6-4, 180-pound senior raced into the end zone for a 66-yard touchdown that put the Tigers ahead for the second time in the game. Lander missed the PAT and set the stage for the dramatic events of the fourth-quarter.

“It doesn't matter what level you're playing at, it's hard to rebound from four, five or six critical mistakes,” Stringer said. “We made mistakes in every phase of the game, and we weren't able to overcome those. The mistakes we made were at crucial times in the game, and they took advantage of them.

“We'll work on those things in practice. We definitely need to work harder and be sharper. We just need to fix our own mistakes and go from there.”

For the game, the Panthers' rushing attack was held to 59 yards on 30 attempts. Trevor Donarski led the Panthers in rushing with 36 yards on five carries.

Through the air, Galen Mills completed eight of 15 passes for 109 yards. He was intercepted twice and threw one touchdown.

Brandt led PHS in receiving yardage with 46 yards on two catches. Gavin Mills added three receptions for 31 yards, and Donarski finished with two catches for 27 yards. Donarski also finished the game with 55 return yards on special teams.

Lander was held below 100 yards rushing by the Panthers. The Tigers notched 41 rushing attempts and managed 88 yards, including a game-high 59 yards on 18 attempts by Klopp.

Through the air, Irene completed five of nine passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns. Baker was Lander's top receiver, pulling in four catches for 76 yards.

Baker also was a standout on defense. In addition to hauling in the key interception late in the game, he finished with 33 defensive points.

Powell's defensive effort was led by Matt McArthur, who tallied 23 defensive points, and Donarski, who finished with 17.

• Up next: The Panthers will be at home for the third week in a row Friday when they host Star Valley (1-3, 0-2) in a Class 4A, West Conference matchup. The Braves, after falling to Snake River (Idaho), Cody and Jackson to start the season, got their first victory of 2008 last week when they defeated Marsh Valley (Idaho) 21-14.