Home field on the line Friday
The second-ranked Cody Broncs captured both the 3A West conference title and bragging rights in the annual Park County rivalry at the expense of No. 5 Powell on Friday night. A slow start to the second half sent the Panthers to a 27-14 loss.
Cody picked off Powell quarterback Keithen Schwahn three times in the second half of Friday's game, returning one of the interceptions for a touchdown. The Broncs used the giveaways to keep the Panthers pinned deep in their own territory. Powell's average starting field position in the second half was its own 23.
The Broncs combined the field position advantage with a stingy defense to transform a 10-7 halftime lead into a comfortable 27-7 affair in the second half. During that stretch, the Panthers picked up just two first downs offensively, one of which came via a roughing the kicker penalty.
After returning their first interception for a touchdown less than two minutes into the second half, Cody was back on the scoreboard four minutes later, capping a six-play drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass. The Broncs would go on to add a 26-yard field goal with just over nine minutes remaining in the game to stretch their lead to 20 points.
The Panthers weren't able to really get moving in the second half until late in the fourth quarter. A 61-yard Schwahn-to-Tyler England completion resulted in the Panthers' lone second-half score. The play, which came with 2:21 remaining in the contest, also was responsible for more than half of Powell's post-intermission offense.
Cody pounced on the Panthers' onside kick attempt and was able to run out the clock.
The one-sided nature of the second half removed a little bit of the luster from a stellar first-half defensive effort by the Panthers. Powell set the tone early by forcing a fumble on the opening kickoff and rarely let up through the first two quarters.
After watching Cody connect on its first pass attempt of the game —a quick 5-yard route —the Panthers' linebackers and secondary forced the Broncs to misfire on their next 10 passing attempts. Cody would not complete another throw until the waning seconds of the first half as the Panthers sagged back in prevent defense.
Cody struggled to gain just 101 yards of offense in the first half against the Panthers' defense. More than half of that total came on a four-play, 51-yard touchdown drive late in the first half. The Broncs' only other first-half score came on a safety after a stellar 41-yard punt pinned the Panthers inside their own 1.
Powell's only score of the first half came on a four-play, 53-yard drive late in the first quarter. After hooking up with Billy Cummings for a 17-yard strike and England on a 32-yard completion to get the ball inside the Cody 10, Schwahn turned disaster into diamonds by recovering a wayward shotgun snap some 15 yards in the backfield and weaving through traffic for what, on the books, went down as an 8-yard touchdown run.
For the game, Powell finished with 219 yards of offense. Schwahn went 10-for-21 through the air for 160 of those yards. He also carried the football 15 times for 40 yards. England, who took a second-half reverse for an 11-yard gain, was the only other Panther to gain more than 10 yards along the ground as Powell had just 59 rushing yards to show for its 33 carry attempts.
The loss drops the Panthers to 4-3 overall this season. Powell is 2-2 in the conference, a record that opens a world of possibilities for this Friday's regular-season finale against Lander.
The Panthers are assured of a place in the playoffs following the results of Friday's other 3A games. Powell can still finish anywhere from the No. 2 to the No. 4 seed out of the 3A West.
“The playoffs start this week,” Panther head coach Jim Stringer told his team just moments after Powell completed its circuit of the post-game handshake line on Friday night. “If we win against Lander, we'll be playing at home in the first-round of the playoffs.”
A loss to the Tigers sends the Panthers on the road to either Buffalo or defending 3A state champion Douglas as either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed. The Panthers' seeding is contingent on the outcomes of the Worland and Star Valley games also being played on Friday night.
Douglas and Buffalo have wrapped up the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds out of the 3A East. Riverton and Wheatland play this Friday, with the winner of that game finishing as the 3A East's No. 3 seed while the loser of that contest nestles in as final East playoff representative.