The Panthers, fresh off a 49-7 beatdown of Torrington, grabbed all 24 first-place votes in this week’s football poll, marking the first time this season the team has been a unanimous No. 1 selection. The Panthers’ total of 360 points puts them 78 ahead of Star Valley, which received 23 of the 24 second-place votes in this week’s poll.
Green River sits another 90 points behind in third place after being tabbed anywhere from second to fourth by the spread of voters. Douglas, with 165 points, slides to No. 4 in this week’s poll. Taking over the fifth position in the rankings is Riverton, which enters after a 26-7 victory over Cody.
Three other teams received votes in this week’s poll but failed to secure enough votes to climb into the top five. One of those teams is Jackson, the Panthers’ opponent this Friday night. The Broncs, 2-1, received five fifth-place votes. Buffalo and Worland were the other teams receiving votes on this week’s round of ballots.
Friday’s game features a meeting of the two top rushing defenses in Class 3A. The Broncs are the only team in the state holding opponents to less than 100 rushing yards per game. The Panthers are allowing slightly less than 117 rushing yards per game to opponents.
That stinginess against the run will be important come Friday night when the Panthers face a Jackson team that, to date, has attempted just six passes this season. The Broncs also feature a pair of rushers who are averaging better than 110 yards per game. As a team, Jackson has gained 260 rushing yards per contest.
“They’ve adopted a new philosophy and they’re definitely a run-oriented team,” said Panther head football coach Jim Stringer. “They’re running a double-tight ace formation. It’s a good offense if you’ve got the horses to run it, and they’ve been doing pretty well so far.”
After a season-opening loss to Teton, Idaho, the Broncs have bounced back with wins over Rawlins and last week’s 20-14 victory against Lander.
“The key will be making sure we’re in a proper alignment,” Stringer said. “The main thing we’ve looked at based on the Torrington film is making sure we’re in the right position. Torrington was able to confuse us a few times early on and get some yards. That shouldn’t be an issue this week since Jackson basically uses that one formation.”
Powell counters with the No. 3 passing attack in 3A and quarterback Hayden Cragoe, whose 151 passing yards per game, place him third in the class this season. Cragoe’s favorite target, Dewey Schwahn, sits fourth in receiving yards, averaging 60 per game. That tandem could be tested though by a Jackson defense that has produced a 3A-best 11 sacks so far this season.
“They run a 4-4 stack on defense. It’s not the same defense they used last year,” said Stringer. “It’s a high-risk, high-reward philosophy. They’re bringing seven or eight guys into the box on every play and blitzing and stunting from every angle. It’s a very aggressive style, but when you do that it leaves some weaknesses elsewhere and we’ll look to exploit that.”
Friday’s game represents the start of conference play in Class 3A, meaning each game carries just a little more significance from this point forward. Conference records are used to determine seeding for the playoffs at season’s end.
“The first three games were fun in terms of getting an idea for what the east side of the state has, but from here on out these games take on a whole new meaning,” said Stringer. “A loss in the conference can go a long way to shafting you in your seeding for the playoffs. We’re hoping to get off to a fast start this week. We’re excited to get out and play. This is our long road trip for the season.”
Kickoff for Friday’s game is 6 p.m. in Jackson. The preliminary forecast calls for mostly sunny skies, a negligible chance of precipitation and a kickoff temperature in the mid-70s, falling into the 60s after dark.