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Panthers impressive in opener

Panther quarterback Hayden Cragoe delivers a pass during Saturday football action in Miles City, Mont. The junior threw for almost 200 yards as the Panthers returned home with a 38-0 victory. Panther quarterback Hayden Cragoe delivers a pass during Saturday football action in Miles City, Mont. The junior threw for almost 200 yards as the Panthers returned home with a 38-0 victory. Tribune photo by Randal Horobik

Defense posts shutout of Miles City

It was a game that, for all practical purposes, didn’t matter, but the top-ranked Powell Panthers certainly didn’t play that way.
Taking the field against an opponent for the first time since capturing the 3A title last fall, the Panthers showcased opportunistic defense, a blanketing secondary and some big-play ability on the way to a 38-0 zero-week football victory at Miles City on Saturday. For the Powell fans who made the road trek, the sight was something to behold.
“I thought we did a lot of good things  defensively,” Panther head coach Jim Stringer said following the game. “I was pleased with our effort on that side of the ball. There’s still things we can address and get better at, but for the first game of the season I was pleased with what we did.”
What the Panthers did was keep Miles City’s offense mired in neutral for most of the night. The Cowboys managed just 95 yards of total offense, more than a third of which came on the final play of the first half as the Panthers sagged their secondary to avoid any sort of trickery. That was one of just three plays of 10 or more yards surrendered by Powell’s defensive unit on the night
A completely  new secondary unit didn’t look the part. The Panthers, who have led Class 3A in interceptions the last two seasons, picked off a pair of passes on Saturday night. The defense also forced and recovered the game’s only fumble.
All of it was accomplished despite senior middle linebacker Vince Sleep standing on the sideline the entire night. Sleep was held out of the contest for precautionary purposes. He continues to nurse an injured finger suffered during offseason workouts.
Offensively, Powell scored the only points it would need on its first possession. Taking the ball at its own 47, Powell marched 53 yards in nine  plays. Cory Heny’s 1-yard dive accounted for the first points of the year for the Panthers.
The drive appeared to stall one play earlier as Heny was nailed in the backfield for a 1-yard loss on a third-and-goal carry, also from the 1. Powell trotted out the field goal unit, but changed its mind after Miles City was penalized for encroachment and the football was moved half the distance toward the goal line.
Miles City made its only trip inside the Panthers’ 30 on its next possession. The Cowboys returned the ensuing kickoff to near midfield, then used a 16-yard quarterback scramble on third down to get to  the 27. Senior Dewey Schwahn ended the scoring threat with an interception two plays later.
Schwahn added a 35-yard field goal four minutes into the second quarter to increase Powell’s lead to 9-0. Less than three minutes later, he was putting Powell on the scoreboard again, this time with a 77-yard touchdown reception that started as a simple slant route on third down.
“It all starts with the line up front,” Schwahn said of the touchdown play. “They did their jobs. Hayden (Cragoe) delivered a good ball and I was able to break a couple tackles and score.”
After the Panthers’ second failed PAT attempt of the first half, the score gave Powell a 15-0 lead. The Panthers carried that margin into halftime, but wasted little time adding to it once play resumed in the third quarter.
Brendon Phister grabbed the second-half kickoff and weaved his way along the Miles City sideline until being tackled 3 yards shy of the endzone. Heny took the first snap from scrimmage the remaining nine feet and the Panthers finally found some success on an extra-point kick to go up 22-0.
Powell was back in business two plays  later as junior Matthew Widdicombe pulled the ball out of the air for the Panthers’ second interception of the contest. Widdicombe’s pick set Powell up at the Miles City 43 and eight plays later, the team was celebrating another touchdown.
Hayden Cragoe’s 1-yard quarterback sneak provided the points, fitting since it was the quarterback’s well-thrown strike to senior Tyler Patterson on fourth down two plays earlier that had positioned Powell in the red zone.
The Panthers added one more score before the third quarter expired. Once again, the points were set up by a big play from the Panthers’ defensive unit, this time via a forced fumble and Patterson’s recovery on a swing pass out of the backfield  by Miles City.
Patterson returned the bobble, which occurred near the Cowboys’ 35, to the 22-yard-line. Four plays later, sophomore Ryan Ferro carried the ball around the left end and raced untouched for 8 yards into the endzone for his first-ever varsity score for Powell. With the PAT, Ferro’s touchdown increased the Panthers’ lead to 36-0 and triggered Montana’s running clock rule.
The Panthers threatened another score on their next possession, having driven the ball from their own 41 down to the Miles City 15. That’s when Powell had one of its few miscues of the night. Cragoe, starting his first game at quarterback for the team, threw into coverage for an interception near the goal line — the Panthers’ only giveaway of the night.
Even that miscue turned rosy for Powell. After a three-and-out stop by the defense, which only surrendered five first downs in the contest, the Cowboys’ snap to the punter sailed out the back of the endzone for a safety, giving the game its final points. The Panthers were driving again with the ball at Miles City’s 22 when time expired.
As a team, Powell finished with 317 yards of offense on 53 plays from scrimmage.  Cragoe was 9-for-20 passing for 192 yards and the one interception. Six of those completions went to Schwahn, who finished with 149 receiving yards.
“We could have had a better night in the passing game,” said Stringer after the contest. “We dropped some balls that should have been caught. That’s one of the areas we can improve in. We need to pull in the ball better than we did tonight.”
Heny finished as Powell’s top rusher on the ground, getting 49 yards on 12 carries as six different Panthers took their turns splitting the team’s 32 rushing attempts. Two-thirds of the Panthers’ offensive plays in the game were run inside of Cowboy territory as the field position battle was decisively won by Powell.
No defensive stats were kept at the game. Panther coaches were still reviewing game film to assign defensive points for the contest at press time.
Powell officially begins its regular season this Friday. The Panthers will again be on the road, this time in Riverton. Kickoff against the Wolverines is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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