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October 14, 2008 12:01 am

Panthers come from behind to corral Broncs

Written by Tribune Staff

Last-minute victory

Powell High School quarterback Galen Mills scored on a 1-yard run with 52 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to lift the third-ranked Panthers to a 19-14 decision over the unranked Jackson Broncs last Friday night in Jackson Hole.

Mills' touchdown capped a nine-play, 72-yard drive and gave the Panthers a come-from-behind victory in what amounted to their most important game to date this season. By winning the Class 4A, West Conference contest, the Panthers (4-2 overall, 3-1 West) remained in the hunt for the conference title and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

“It was a good win for us,” said PHS head coach Jim Stringer. “It was another one of those games that was a tale of two halves. We got behind early and went into the locker room at halftime behind 14-3. At that point, we told the kids to keep their heads up. We knew if each kid went out and did their job and did it well, we'd be fine. We told them not to worry about being Superman and taking on more than they needed to out there. We told them to play within themselves because we knew if they did that, everything would be OK.”

The Panthers took that advice and outscored the Broncs 16-0 during the second half. In the process, PHS played with poise similar to what it displayed in week one when they mounted a game-winning, fourth-quarter drive against Worland in a hard-fought conference battle.

“I was impressed with the way the kids rebounded,” Stringer added. “We were able to run the ball more effectively, and we had some good passing plays. I thought our line played well, and they did a nice job of controlling the line of scrimmage.”

PHS's game-clinching drive came with the Panthers trailing 14-13 and after defensive coordinator Mike Heny's defense halted a Bronc drive at the JHHS 44. The Panthers, following a punt by the Broncs (1-5 overall, 1-3 West), took over at their own 28 and quickly moved the ball down the field with a good mix of running and passing plays. It took PHS just two plays — a 13-yard pass to Ryan Brandt and a 12-yard run by Mills — to get the Panthers into JHHS territory. They continued their march, thanks in part to a 13-yard reception to Brandon Sullivan and 17-yard pass to Trevor Donarski, both of which supplemented a number of positive gains by the rushing attack.

With 1:35 remaining, Donarski carried the ball three yards on first-and-goal from the JHHS 4 to set up Mills' game-winning touchdown on the ensuing play. The two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the Panthers ahead by five points and just 52 seconds left on the clock. That's when kicker Drayson Bratt delivered one of his biggest plays of the season.

“I told Drayson I wanted a squib kick right at No. 53 (for JHHS) and to keep the ball away from (Carlos) Bonilla,” Stringer said. “Bonilla is a good player, and we certainly didn't want him to have an opportunity for a good return. Drayson made a perfect kick. It took two hops and went right off the helmet of No. 53.”

By the time the Broncs covered the ball, they were at their own 15 and facing the prospect of driving 85 yards in 48 seconds if they wanted to overtake the Panthers. Simply put, that didn't even come close to happening against the stubborn Panther defense. Jackson gained only one yard in four plays.

Early in the contest, PHS staked a 3-0 lead on its first possession of the game. That drive, which started at midfield, ended with Bratt kicking his first field goal of the season.

Jackson answered that score quickly. Following Bratt's kickoff, which went into the end zone for a touchback, Bonilla raced 80 yards for a score on first-and-10.

The Broncs added to their advantage shortly before halftime, courtesy of an interception of a Mills' pass. That turnover set up JHHS at the Powell 40. A 31-yard pass put the Broncs inside the Panther 10, and two plays later, Bonilla scored on a 1-yard run. With the PAT, Jackson had a 14-3 lead, which it took into halftime.

Powell's first drive of the second half ended with an interception, which gave the Broncs the ball at the PHS 41. However, the Panthers got the ball back two plays later when PHS's Trent Gillett forced a fumble that was recovered by Panther cornerback Matt Kifer at the PHS 43. From there, the Panthers drove 57 yards in nine plays for its first touchdown of the game, a 1-yard run by Billy Harshman. Bratt also added the PAT to cut PHS's deficit to 14-10. That third-quarter drive was aided by passes of 13 and 26 yards to Donarski.

Late in the third quarter, PHS mounted another drive that spilled into the early stages of the fourth period. The drive, which started at midfield, included a 27-yard pass to Brandt, which gave the Panthers a first down at the JHHS 11. However, the drive stalled and PHS settled for its second field goal of the game from Bratt. He finished with field goals covering 26 and 32 yards.

Bratt's second field goal left the Panthers behind 14-13, but they quickly got another shot at adding more points when Gavin Mills intercepted a Bronc pass to give PHS the ball at the Jackson 22. That drive ended with Bratt attempting a 40-yard field goal, which was wide right by about a yard, according to Stringer.

“It just barely missed,” Stringer said. “He had plenty of distance on it. In fact, it would have been good from about 55 yards had it made it through the uprights.”

That missed field goal occurred with 8:39 remaining in the fourth quarter. Fortunately for the Panthers, the defensive stop on Jackson's next drive set the stage for PHS's dramatic, games-winning drive.

Statistically, the Panthers had several players enjoy solid performances. With the exception of throwing two interceptions, Galen Mills had a strong night in the passing department. He completed 11 of 14 passes for a career-high 180 yards. He also was PHS's leading rusher with 72 yards on 13 carries. Harshman added 46 yards on the ground. As a team, PHS tallied 153 yards rushing on 44 attempts.

The receiver corps was led by Donarski's seven catches for 103 yards, and Brandt's three catches for 64 yards. Sullivan finished with one key catch on the final scoring drive for 13 yards.

Defensively, the Panthers were led by Matt McArthur, who finished with 25 defensive points. Donarski added a 12-point performance on defense.

Jackson finished with 161 yards rushing on 25 attempts and 51 yards passing on a five-of-14 effort. Bonilla, who gained 80 yards on his first touchdown run, ended the night with 96 yards on 11 rushing attempts.

Stringer also noted that the Panthers ran 59 offensive plays to only 39 for Jackson. The Broncs were limited to a mere three offensive plays in the third quarter.

• Up next: The Panthers will be at home Friday night when they host the Class 3A Lovell Bulldogs. The Bulldogs, ranked fourth in last week's WyoPreps.com Poll, defeated Newcastle by a 40-0 margin last week. Overall, LHS has a 4-2 record.