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Panthers brace for Park County showdown

The Powell Panthers’ offensive line won the battle last Friday in Worland, helping the team amass 334 rushing yards. The challenge gets bigger this week as Powell heads west for a battle with rival Cody. The Powell Panthers’ offensive line won the battle last Friday in Worland, helping the team amass 334 rushing yards. The challenge gets bigger this week as Powell heads west for a battle with rival Cody. Tribune photo by Randal Horobik

Powell carries unanimous No. 1 into Friday’s game in Cody

The Powell Panthers make the short trip to Cody this Friday night for the annual Park County showdown with the Broncs. Powell carries a 6-0 record into the contest and a perfect 3-0 mark in 3A West competition.

Cody, 2-4 overall and 1-2 in 3A West play, enters the contest smarting after a 39-0 loss to Star Valley last week.

But as fans of both programs know, all those numbers can be thrown right out the window. This is rivalry week, and history shows that anything can happen.

“It’s a friendly rivalry,” Powell head coach Jim Stringer said. “I think both schools respect each other. If it was any other week, we’d probably be wishing each other well, but since we’re playing each other, you know it’s going to amp things up a little extra when you step onto the field.”

Fans need to look no further back than last season to see the level of uncertainty the rivalry game can throw on the field. After springing a long touchdown pass on the first play of the game, the Panthers watched as Cody scored 14 unanswered points to silence the home crowd and carry a lead into the second half. The Panthers eventually righted the ship in the second half to score a comfortable victory in the final game played at the old Panther Stadium.

“You know they’re going to do a little extra to try and beat us, and we’re going to try and play with a little extra focus to beat them,” said Stringer. “You always want to beat your rival. That’s one of those things that can make a season.”

The Panthers also carry a larger bulls-eye as the unanimous No. 1 team in Class 3A in this week’s Wyopreps coaches and media poll. The Panthers received all 24 first-place votes this week, to rank ahead of Star Valley, Green River, Douglas and Riverton in a hierarchy that did not change following a week of largely lopsided football action around Class 3A. For the second week in a row, Cody picked up a single fifth-place vote in the balloting.

“They’re a good football team,” said Stringer. “The west division is pretty strong, so they’ve picked up some losses because they’ve already played Green River and Star Valley. They’re a better team than their record indicates at this point.”

The Broncs are also a young team, starting a number of sophomores and juniors.

“They’re tough though,” Stringer said of the Broncs’ younger players. “We’ll have to go out and play well. They might be young, but they have good size and good numbers. They’ve got a pretty big group of kids over there.”

The Broncs rank in the middle of Class 3A in offense and defense this season. The Panthers bring the state’s top-ranked defensive unit into the contest, holding opponents to less than 165 yards per game, nearly 50 yards better than the state’s next-best defense. Powell also fields the No. 2 offense in Class 3A.

“We’re looking to do the same thing as this past week,” said Stringer. “We want to establish our running game early and that will allow us to move in and out of our play-action passing game. If we’re able to run the football well, it allows Hayden (Cragoe) to be more in synch with his receivers.”

Cragoe hasn’t needed much help in that regard. Through six games, the junior quarterback of the Panthers has posted a state-best efficiency rating of 195, thanks in part to a 57 percent completion rate and a 14-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Riverton’s Xavier Webb has 3A’s second-best efficiency rating with a 133.8.

The Panthers will be taking the field against Cody short one of their leading defenders. Brendon Phister, who sat out the entire second half of last week’s game against Worland, will not suit up this week.

“Discretion is the better part of decision making, and we thought it best not to subject him to any further chances of people ringing his bell this week,” said Stringer. “The doc said it’d be best if he took the week off, so we won’t suit him up. He’ll have this week to rest and he’ll be back the following week ready to go against Green River.”

In Phister’s absence sophomore Carter Baxter will likely step in at outside linebacker this Friday. Sophomore Ryan Ferro will fill in for Phister on the offensive side of the football.

With last week’s 63-7 victory over Worland, the Panthers assured themselves of a place in the 3A playoff field this season. Despite achieving that status, Panther practices haven’t taken on a festive atmosphere this week.

“Honest, we haven’t even talked about it,” said Stringer. “We knew as coaches that it was taken care of, but just making the playoffs wasn’t one of our goals for this year, so we don’t feel like we’ve passed any sort of milestone yet. Our goal is to earn the conference championship and secure home field for each round of the playoffs, and in order to do that these last two games are very important. We haven’t reached our goal yet.”

Kickoff for Friday’s Powell-Cody game is slated for 7 p.m. in Cody. Game time temperatures are predicted to be in the low to mid 50s.

Football standings

3A West

Powell            3-0    6-0

Green River   3-0    5-1

Star Valley      2-1    5-1

Cody              1-2    2-4

Worland         0-3    2-4

Jackson         0-3    2-4

3A East

Douglas         3-0    5-1

Riverton        3-0    4-2

Buffalo          1-2    2-4

Lander          1-2    1-5

Rawlins         1-2    1-5

Torrington     0-3    0-5

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