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November 04, 2008 3:00 am

Panthers tame Tigers

Written by Tribune Staff

PHS edges Lander 12-7, advances to semifinals

Powell High School's football team traveled to face Lander in a first-round playoff matchup Friday night and came away with a 12-7 victory over the Tigers.

For PHS (6-3), the win helped them avenge a 19-14, regular-season setback to Lander during the fourth week of the season. More importantly, Friday night's decision helped PHS earn a date in Class 4A's semifinal round. The Panthers are scheduled to face Douglas (7-2) in a road matchup Saturday at noon.

“Offensively, we were able to move the ball pretty well,” said PHS head coach Jim Stringer. “But we still made some mistakes that kept us from taking advantage of some scoring opportunities or kept us from keeping some drives going.”

One such turnover occurred on PHS's first drive of the game after the Panther defense held Lander to a three-and-out. Powell's drive started on its own 37, and using a good mix of passing and running plays, the Panthers were able to move the ball inside Lander's 10-yard line.

However, on a second-and-goal play from the Lander 8, a potential touchdown pass bounced off the shoulder pads of receiver Gavin Mills and was picked off by a Tiger defender at the Lander 1.

Powell's defense then held the Tigers to just one yard and forced the home team to punt from its own end zone. Matt McArthur broke through the line of scrimmage on the play and blocked Lander's punt out of the back of the end zone for a safety and the first points of the game.

“That was a huge play,” Stringer said of the block by McArthur. “It was good to have that after we turned the ball over.”

Not to be outdone, the Tigers blocked a punt of their own during the second quarter. The block gave Lander a first down at the PHS 20, and it took the host team just three plays to score. Bret Klop capped the drive with a 6-yard scoring run, and with the successful PAT, the Tigers moved ahead 7-2.

The Panthers, after suffering a pair of interceptions and a blocked punt in the first half, saw their first drive of the third quarter end with a fumble inside Lander's 25-yard land. The turnover ended a march that began on the PHS 20.

“Our kids could have folded the tents after that one,” Stringer said. “But they didn't give up, and they kept playing hard.”

Lander endured another three-and-out following the Panthers' third turnover of the game, and PHS quickly atoned for the miscue with a 70-yard scoring drive that featured a 56-yard touchdown run by quarterback Galen Mills. On the scoring play scoring run, receivers Gavin Mills and Ryan Brandt and running back Billy Harshman all made key blocks. Stringer said he was particularly impressed with Harshman's effort.

Harshman, after fulfilling his initial blocking assignment, raced downfield and took out a Lander safety and cornerback with a second block.

Drayson Bratt added the PAT after Galen Mills' run to put the Panthers ahead 9-7 just past the midway point of the third period.

With 2:17 left in the fourth quarter, Bratt tacked on three more points for PHS with a 37-yard field goal.

Lander got the ball back at its own 47-yard line following a squib kick that bounced off a Tiger just past midfield. Lander was able to recover the ball and needed to go just 53 yards for a go-ahead score. However, much like it did throughout the game, the Panther defense rose to the occasion and held the Tigers to four straight incomplete passes to end Lander's hopes of a dramatic come-from-behind effort. After the Tigers turned over the ball on downs, PHS held the ball until the remaining time expired.

For the game, PHS's defense limited Lander to only 64 yards rushing and 27 yards passing. The Tigers completed just two of 16 passes. In the earlier meeting between the two teams, it was Lander's passing game that helped propel them to victory in Panther Stadium.

Among those playing a major role in grounding the Tigers' passing attack was safety Gavin Mills. He was given the role of covering Matt Baker, Lander's No. 1 receiver, throughout the game.

“Gavin played extremely well on defense,” Stringer said. “He shut down Baker throughout the game and really took him out of his element. He was frustrated because he couldn't get open, and that led Lander's quarterback to get confused and frustrated.”

McArthur also played well throughout the contest, according to Stringer, and finished with a team-leading 21 defensive points.

“He was really flying around the field the whole game,” Stringer said of McArthur.

As for Powell's offense, Galen Mills proved to be effective both running and throwing the ball. He finished with 14 carries for a game-high 128 yards and completed 13 of 23 passes for 122 yards. The receiving effort was paced by Brandt and Trevor Donarski. Brandt caught five passes for 65 yards, and Donarski had six catches for 43 yards. Of Donarski's catches, four were for first downs.

Both teams were hit hard by penalties throughout the contest. PHS was flagged 10 times for 68 yards, and Lander committed 12 penalties for 90 yards.

In other Class 4A playoff action last weekend, Douglas defeated Rawlins 55-0, Buffalo overpowered Worland 34-7 and Cody blasted Torrington 47-0.

In addition to PHS's semifinal matchup at Douglas Saturday at noon, Buffalo will be at Cody Friday for a 6 p.m. matchup.