Cory Heny opened the scoring with a 3-yard first quarter touchdown run on the Panthers’ first possession. The drive was started by a Hayden Cragoe interception at the Panthers’ 30 and featured a number of good midrange pass completions, including a 19 yarder from Cragoe to Dewey Schwahn that set up Heny’s scoring plunge. The Panthers needed just eight plays to cover the 70 yards on the scoring drive.
The Trailblazers’ ecclectic offense kept the Panthers on their heels. Torrington marched the ensuing kickoff from its own 33 to the Panthers’ 2. There, Powell’s defensive unit arched its back, stuffing the Blazers on their first effort to punch the football in before forcing and recovering a fumble on the attempt.
The joy from that defensive stop proved to be short-lived, however. Five snaps of the football later, Torrington picked off a Cragoe pass near the 25 and returned it the distance for a touchdown, tying the game at 7-7. Cragoe was hit just as he released the football on the play.
“That was just a case where we didn’t have the right protection package for the stunt that Torrington called,” said Powell head coach Jim Stringer. “That’s certainly not on Hayden. It’s kind of like chess, if you make the right move at the right time there’s not a lot the other person can do about it.”
As quick as that thunderbolt struck, the Panthers delivered a counterpunch. Sophomore Ty Herd grabbed the ensuing kickoff at the 7, turned upfield and never stopped running until he reached the endzone. The return was the second kickoff returned for a score in as many weeks by the Panther special teams unit.
That score also proved to be a momentum shifter for the game. The Trailblazers’ next drive was denied on fourth down at the Panthers’ 32. A short while later, Vince Sleep rumbled 54 yards for a touchdown.
Powell got another rapid score with 1:22 remaining in the first half. Cragoe took the ball 47 yards on the second play of the Panthers’ possession to make the score 28-7 entering the half.
Powell continued to pour it on in the third quarter. After taking possession of the second-half kick at their own 8, the Panthers marched the 92 yards in 12 plays. The drive was capped by a 5-yard Sleep touchdown run.
Powell’s offense didn’t have much time to rest. Cragoe recorded his second interception of the night on Torrington’s third play from scrimmage, setting the stage for a six-play, 53-yard touchdown drive. The Panthers reached paydirt via a 21-yard pass from Cragoe to Heny.
Once again, it proved to be a short rest for the Panthers’ offense. Torrington fumbled on its third play, setting up Powell just 29 yards from the endzone. Three snaps of the football later, Herd burst into the endzone from 27 yards out to make the score 49-7 in favor of Powell with one minute still remaining in the third quarter.
Powell’s reserves drove into Torrington territory twice in the fourth quarter but were unable to come away with points on either occasion.
The Panthers finished with 486 yards of total offense, 263 along the ground and 223 via the air. Cragoe finished 12-for-15 in the passing department for 188 of those yards. Vince Sleep added 83 yards rushing the ball.
“I thought Vince had kind of a breakout game rushing the football,” said Stringer. “I thought all of our backs ran hard with the football. Cory Heny really set the tone early with some of the hard rushes he had.”
Torrington finished with 182 yards of offense, 157 of which came on the Trailblazers’ first three possessions of the game.
“Early on, we were misaligned defensively and that made it hard to stop their power game,” said Stringer. “Once we got that sorted out midway through the first quarter, it kind of changed the complexion of the game.”
Junior Matthew Widdicombe paced the Panthers with 19 defensive points in the contest. Widdicombe finished with three solo tackles, four assisted tackles, a fumble recovery and a pair of pass breakups. Vince Sleep added a 16-point night off six assists, two solo stops and a pair of tackles for loss. Fueled by his two interceptions, Cragoe finished with 15 defensive points.
With Torrington’s only score of the night coming via an interception return, Friday marked the third time in four games this season that an opponent has failed to score against the Powell defense.
The Panthers open conference play this week. The team travels to Jackson, 2-1 this season, for a 3A West opener against the Broncs on Friday. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.