Aside from a 43-yard fake punt in the second quarter, the Panthers’ defensive unit kept Worland in check the entire night. Powell held the Warriors, 2-4 on the season, to just 76 yards of offense, better than half of which came on the fake punt rush, which also set up Worland’s only score of the night a couple plays later on a 13-yard touchdown pass.
The Panthers’ defense shook off the intermittent snow flurries that sprinkled the field periodically in the first half and feasted upon seven Worland turnovers. Included in that total were five interceptions to drive the team’s state-leading total higher. Junior Matthew Widdicombe returned one of those picks for a touchdown, part of a two interception night for the junior. Vince Sleep, Hayden Cragoe and Ryan Ferro each intercepted passes as well.
“It’s nice when you can turn opportunities like that into points,” said Panther football head coach Jim Stringer. “Matthew’s return for a touchdown was one example where we did that, but we were also able to drive in and put points on the board after several other turnovers as well.”
Offensively, Powell had no difficulty moving the football against a Worland defense that had been suspect for much of the season. Entering the game, the Warriors had allowed 40 or more points to all but one of their opponents this season and the Panthers wasted little time cashing in on that trend.
Sleep scored on a pair of first-quarter touchdown runs, the first set up by a spectacular catch by Dewey Schwahn, who hauled in a tipped ball while falling to his back just short of the end zone.
“Any time we needed yardage, we were able to line up in our power-I set and just blow open some big holes behind the right side of our line,” Stringer said. “I think all four of Vince’s touchdowns came off that play. We were able to really punch open some seams and dominated the line of scrimmage. Our running game was really spot-on.”
The Panthers were also able to fake the play one time, flipping a pass to Garrett Lynch out of the backfield for a touchdown.
“The more I’ve watched game film, the more I feel the kids did play pretty well,” said Stringer. “I was hard on the O-line during the game because Worland brought some pressure that we weren’t able to pick up sometimes early in the game. That was a situation where they had one defensive stunt that gave us trouble and we talked about it at halftime and did a much better job of accounting for it in the second half.”
The Panthers built a 42-7 lead at intermission, then spent nearly the first half of the third quarter methodically marching down the field for another touchdown. A short while later, the Panthers were back in the end zone, triggering Wyoming’s running clock.
Powell finished with 470 yards of offense, including 334 yards along the ground. Cory Heny became the Panthers’ first 100-yard rusher this season with 154 yards on 14 carries, including a big scoring run. Sleep added 61 yards on nine carries.
Passing, Cragoe was 7-for-11 for 136 yards and two touchdowns.
“Our receivers did a good job of dealing with the first semi-blustery night we’ve had this season,” said Stringer. “And Hayden did a good job of throwing the ball to where they could catch it.”
Schwahn finished with three receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, Widdicombe finished with a team-best 16 points. Widdicombe finished with two solo tackles, his pair of interceptions and a pass breakup. Sleep added 12 points from three solo and one assisted tackle, as well as an interception.
The Panthers’ defense did take a hit in the contest as junior Brendon Phister sat the entire second half after getting dinged up making a tackle in the second quarter.
“He was part of a big scrum trying to bring down a ball carrier and he got twisted around and as the pile came down, he was at the bottom of it and the back of his head hit the ground pretty good,” said Stringer. “We’ll see how he does this week before we make any decisions about Friday with him.”
The Panthers, 6-0 and 3-0 in league play, make the short trek to Cody this week to face the Broncs, who are coming off a 39-0 loss at the hands of Star Valley this past weekend.