After a string of slow starts this season and a long Friday bus ride to boot, Head coach Jim Stringer and the Panther coaching staff spent the week leading up to the Jackson game preaching the need for a fast start to his team. They listened.
While rolling to the victory, the Panthers scored twice in the first five minutes of the game and found the end zone on their first nine possessions, including a punt return for a touchdown.
“I was pleased with how we stepped off the bus ready to play,” said Stringer. “One of our focal points for the week was that we wanted to play at a very high level from the start rather than waiting until deep into the first half or the second half like we have been.”
Hayden Cragoe finished 8-for-13 passing for 200 yards. Dewey Schwahn hauled in four passes, all for touchdowns, and finished with 97 receiving yards. Facing what, to date, had been the top rushing defense in Wyoming 3A football, the Panthers demonstrated the ability to run at will, averaging better than 9 yards per carry while gaining another 269 yards along the ground.
The tone for the blowout was set on the game’s first play. As the Panthers kicked off to Jackson, the ball squibbed and struck one of the Broncs’ forward players, bouncing back to Powell for a quick turnover.
The Panthers needed just seven plays to move the 51 yards in for the score. Cragoe and Schwahn hooked up for their first scoring connection in the contest on a second down pass play covering 26 yards.
Cragoe intercepted Jackson on the Broncs’ third play from scrimmage, setting the offense up at the Jackson 31. Three plays later, Ryan Ferro romped 13 yards for a score. With Cory Heny’s two-point conversion run, Powell went ahead 14-0 with less than five minutes elapsed.
Heny found the end zone again with nine seconds remaining in the first quarter, this time for a touchdown. Heny carried the ball three times, including the final 7 yards, and also hauled in a 26-yard pass during a 10-play, 64-yard scoring drive, which was Powell’s longest of the night in terms of the number of plays run.
The 21-point first quarter was just a taste of things to come in the second period. After holding the Broncs to a three-and-out, the Panthers took control of the football at their own 47. Two plays later Cragoe fired a 53-yard pass to Brendon Phister for a score.
Another three-and out led to a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown by Heny. The return for a score was Powell’s third kick return touchdown in as many games. The Panthers’ previous touchdown returns had both come on kickoffs.
The first-half onslaught continued. Another squibbed kickoff ricocheted off a Jackson front-line player, mirroring the game’s opening kickoff and giving Powell the football at its own 48. Two plays later, Schwahn was racing to the endzone with a 50-yard reception.
“Dewey runs such good routes,” said Stringer. “Hayden can trust him to be where he needs to be so he’s comfortable throwing the ball to him. Then, on top of that, Dewey does an excellent job of running with the football after the catch, so he picks up excellent yardage on even shorter passes.”
The Cragoe-to-Schwahn connection struck again midway through the second quarter. The tandem combined for a 20-yard touchdown that was set up moments earlier by a 42-yard run from Vince Sleep. The score gave the Panthers a 49-0 lead with 6:15 still remaining in the first half.
Jackson was able to momentarily stop the bleeding with a 66-yard touchdown pass. The play marked the first time the Broncs had not gone three-and-out on an offensive series and accounted for all but nine of the team’s passing yardage.
“We just got a little shallow on a route down the seam and they were able to sneak behind us,” said Stringer. “We made a bad read. It was really the only big mistake we had executing our scheme.”
The relief was incredibly short-lived for Bronc fans. Powell needed just five plays to respond with a 71-yard drive. Heny dashed the final 8 yards to push Powell’s first-half point-total to 56 points. The Panthers nearly added to that total as Schwahn intercepted Jackson on the final play of the first half and appeared to return the pick 40 yards for a touchdown.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty whistled against the Panthers nullified the return and sent the teams to the locker room with a 56-6 score showing.
Due to the lopsided margin of the contest, the second half was played with a continuously running clock. After fumbling the opening kickoff, Powell held Jackson on downs and took possession of the football at the Panther 34. Seven plays later, Cragoe flipped a 1-yard pass to Schwahn to complete the scoring for the night.
The rest of the game proved to be a sloppy performance by a makeshirt offensive unit by the Panthers, who were guilty of a number of turnovers in the third and fourth quarters. Each time, Powell’s defense was there to deny Jackson.
The Panthers shut down the top rushing attack in 3A. Jackson, which entered the game with two 100-yard rushers, was held to just 60 total yards along the ground. All but 11 of those yards came on the Broncs’ final possession of the game, long after the game’s outcome was determined.
The Broncs managed just two first downs in the first half, both coming by way of Panther penalties. Jackson wasn’t able to rush or pass for a first down until the waning seconds of the third quarter.
“We changed our defensive scheme knowing that they liked to run the ball,” said Stringer. “Instead of our usual four-man front, we shifted to a five-man front to try and counter their running game. We had a lot of defensive linemen in on tackles as a result.”
Linebacker Brendon Phister finished with 13 defensive points in the contest to pace the Panthers. Defensive lineman Mike Mundy added 11 points while defensive end Garrett Lynch was a permanent fixture in Jackson’s backfield, forcing the action for the Panthers’ D.
“He did a great job,” said Stringer.
Heny finished with 94 yards and two touchdowns on 11 plays along the ground. Sleep added 64 yards on six carries.
“We had a handful of plays that we figured from film we’d be able to have success with,” said Stringer. “But we also put our audible package in this week and gave Hayden the freedom to look over the defense and check into different plays based on what he saw out there. He was able to do that a few times and was successful with it. He did a nice job in that position for the first time.”
The Panthers’ win sets up a showdown with No. 2 Star Valley this Friday for Homecoming. Both teams carry 4-0 records into the contest.