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October 21, 2008 3:01 am

Panthers overpower Lovell Bulldogs 42-7

Written by Tribune Staff

PHS proves dominant in battle of third-ranked squads

Friday night's much-anticipated matchup between Powell and Lovell high schools proved to be nothing more than a small bump in the road for the third-ranked, Class 4A Panthers.

PHS held the third-ranked, Class 3A Bulldogs' spread-formation attack to one touchdown in what translated into a 42-7 beatdown. Among the keys to the victory for PHS (5-2 overall, 3-1 West) was its ability to contain Bulldog quarterback Grant Geiser, who entered the matchup as 3A's all-purpose yardage leader with 330.5 yards per contest. He also entered the game with an impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio of 17 touchdowns to three interceptions. That mark took a major hit Friday night, thanks to the Panthers.

PHS held Geiser to 19 completions for 206 yards on 38 attempts. He also tossed one touchdown pass, but was picked off four times. It was the second time this season Panther defense has finished a game with four interceptions. The other instance came against Star Valley, a team that also employs a spread offense.

According to Mike Heny, defensive coordinator for the Panthers, PHS middle linebacker Matt McArthur was the primary player used to mirror Geiser throughout the game. Though McArthur finished with just four defensive points,

Heny said the senior's contributions were extremely valuable. Heny also noted the strong play of the Panthers' defensive line and the secondary as keys to the victory.

“Matt was the primary guy we used to mirror everything that Geiser did,” Heny said. “He did a great job, and was able to keep Geiser from breaking any huge runs. He also put a lot of pressure on him throughout the game and forced quite a few bad throws.”

Geiser also saw plenty of Rustin Myrick and Ryan Brandt throughout the contest. Those two defenders, like McArthur, helped keep Geiser on the run all game long and both came through with a number of quarterback-hurries and sacks. Brandt finished the contest tied for the team lead in defensive points with 11. Included in his performance were a pair of sacks.

“I thought we had a good defensive package in place,” said PHS head coach Jim Stringer. “We had to adjust some early on, and we basically went with a nickel package against them. Once we settled down and once everybody took care of their responsibility instead of trying to do more than what we were asking of them, I thought we were fine.”

And whereas the Lovell offense came in with the hype generated by four straight games in which they scored 40 or more points, it was the Panther offense which stole the show Friday night by taking advantage of scoring opportunities.

Lovell (4-3) got the ball first Friday night, but quickly was forced to punt after a three-and-out from their own 20. PHS, following a punt return by Gavin Mills, set up at Lovell's 45 and needed just six plays to score. Auston Carter capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run, and Drayson Bratt added the PAT for a 7-0 lead near the midway point of the opening quarter.

Lovell's ensuing possession proved disastrous as Geiser was pressured by Myrick on first down. Geiser was able to deliver a pass on the play, but it was brought down by PHS's Galen Mills at the Bulldogs' 34. Powell, however, quickly gave the ball back on the following play when it fumbled and Lovell's Dickerson fell on the loose ball.

The turnover gave the Bulldogs a new set of downs and new life, and they took full advantage of the opportunity by notching a 64-yard scoring drive, which was highlighted by a 45-yard completion from Geiser to Steven Durtsche to the PHS 2. After back-to-back penalties by Lovell, the Bulldogs finally reached the end zone on a 12-yard scoring strike from Geiser to Shane Dickerson. With the PAT, the score stood at 7-7 with 7:15 remaining to play in the first quarter.

The score remained tied until the second quarter when PHS's Galen Mills delivered a perfect throw for a 28-yard scoring pass to Trevor Donarski. Bratt's PAT gave Powell a 14-7 lead with 1:36 left before halftime. Donarski's touchdown helped cap an 83-yard scoring drive.

In the second half, the Panthers dominated on both sides of the ball. Lovell kicked off, and had the benefit of a 15-yard penalty assessed against the Panthers for being late in returning to the field. LHS's coaching staff opted for an an onside kick, but the ball hit and traveled backward before going out of bounds, leaving PHS with the ball at their own 46. From there, it took the Panthers just seven plays to score, this time on a 3-yard run by Donarski. Bratt again booted the PAT for a 21-7 lead.

The Panthers got their fourth touchdown of the game just before the end of the third quarter when Galen Mills threw a 15-yard scoring strike to his twin brother Gavin Mills. That score capped an 83-yard scoring march, which ended with another accurate PAT by Bratt.

Up 28-7, PHS continued to pull away from the Bulldogs when an interception by Gavin Mills set up PHS's offense at the Lovell 40 early in the fourth period. Once again, the PHS offense met little resistance from the Bulldog defense and reached the end zone on a 2-yard touchdown run by Billy Harshman with 7:08 to play. Bratt's PAT upped PHS's advantage to 35-7, but the Panthers weren't done putting points on the scoreboard.

The Bulldogs, desperately trying to crack the PHS defense for any type of positive yardage, endured their fourth interception of the game when Panther defensive back Jordan Brown picked off an errant Geiser pass. Shortly after, Harshman punched the ball into the end zone on an 8-yard run. Bratt's PAT following PHS's sixth touchdown of the night ended the scoring at 42-7 with 5:17 remaining.

Lovell continued to go to the air in the last minutes of the contest, but again found little success. PHS defender Reed Hackworth, who also spent time mirroring Geiser during the game, left his mark on the contest by snagging Powell's fourth interception of the night.

Defensively, Powell held Lovell to 206 passing yards, all by Geiser. On the ground, the Bulldogs finished with with minus-3 yards rushing on 12 attempts. Geiser finished with minus-2 yards rushing on the night. Lovell's top receiver was Durtsche, who had eight catches for 115 yards. Ben Long also was among LHS's reception leaders with two catches for 47 yards.

The Panther defense was paced by the 11-point defensive performances from Brandt and Brandon Sullivan. Gavin Mills added 11 defensive points, and Galen Mills contributed with nine.

Powell's offense boasted a number of strong performances, including that of Galen Mills, who completed seven of 10 passes for 103 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also had 12 carries for 72 yards.

Harshman added 17 rushes for 123 yards, and Carter finished with 56 yards on seven attempts. As a team, the Panthers finished with 308 rushing yards on 47 attempts.

The PHS receiving effort was paced by Brandt's 37 yards on two catches. Donarski and Gavin Mills also had two receptions each for 34 and 24 yards, respectively.

• Up next: The regular season will come to a close for the Panthers this Friday when they travel to face Cody (5-2 overall, 4-0 West) in what will be the most important game of the season for both teams. At stake Friday will be the West Conference title. If the Panthers can win the game, PHS and Cody will have identical 4-1 conference records.

However, by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker, Powell would be crowned the conference champ. A victory also would put the Panthers in a position to have their first two games of the postseason at Panther Stadium should they win the first contest of the playoff season.