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Panthers cruise into playoffs

The Panthers hoist aloft the 3A West championship trophy following a 51-6 rout of No. 4 Green River last Friday. Powell hosts Lander in the quarterfinal round of the 3A playoffs this Friday at 7 p.m. The Panthers hoist aloft the 3A West championship trophy following a 51-6 rout of No. 4 Green River last Friday. Powell hosts Lander in the quarterfinal round of the 3A playoffs this Friday at 7 p.m. Tribune photo by Randal Horobik

Powell earns home-field advantage through title game

The Powell Panthers wrapped up an undefeated regular season and secured home field advantage through the 3A championship game with a 51-6 thrashing of No. 4 Green River. In doing so, they broadcast a clear message to the rest of the state.

The road to the 3A championship, literally and figuratively, will pass through Powell. If the team keeps playing the way it did on Friday night, it’s hard to imagine that it won’t be coming back to Powell as well.

As they have done so many times this season, the Panthers started quickly thanks to a turnover. Green River fumbled an exchange in the backfield on the game’s first offensive play. The Panthers recovered at the 20 and six plays later were celebrating a 3-yard touchdown toss from Hayden Cragoe to Garrett Lynch.

Powell’s defense forced a three-and-out on the next Green River possession and a facemask penalty on the punt return set the Panthers’ offense up on the Wolves’ half of the field for their second series. Content to chip away in small chunks, Powell methodically worked the ball from the 47 to the 4 in six plays, the biggest being a 12-yard Cragoe-to-Carter Baxter pass completion. Cory Heny carried the ball the final distance, stretching Powell’s lead to 14-0 and silencing the smattering of Green River fans who made the long journey north for the game.

Green River appeared to be gaining some of that momentum back as the first quarter came to a close. The Wolves had moved the ball from their own 31 to the Panther 34, but quickly gave that effort away by putting the ball on the turf to open the second quarter.

Powell pounced on the football and embarked on a 52-yard drive that stalled at the Green River 20. Dewey Schwahn came in and split the uprights with a 36-yard field goal, extending the Panthers’ lead to 17-0.

The Panthers’ defense continued to make life difficult for the Wolves, surrendering just 2 yards on Green River’s next series to force Green River to punt from near its own goal line. Powell took over at its own 44 and needed just six plays to score on a 2-yard plunge by Vince Sleep. A 26-yard Cragoe-to-Heny completion helped position the Panthers for the score with 3:29 remaining in the first half.

The Panthers weren’t done, however. As has been the case so many times this season, Powell was able to deliver another dagger in the waning seconds of the first half. The sequence was set up by another three-and-out from the defensive unit, which put the ball back in the hands of the Panther offense.

Three plays after taking over at its own 10, the Panthers were celebrating Heny’s 63-yard dash to paydirt and a 30-0 lead at intermission.

Powell never wavered in its attack in the second half. The Panthers took the second-half kick and turned it into a seven-play, 61-yard touchdown drive. Cragoe’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Heny on a fourth-and-9 play stretched the Panther lead to 37-0.

Heny got the ball back for the Panthers with an interception on Green River’s next offensive series, triggering a 56-yard scoring drive for the Panther offense. Fittingly, it was Heny who carried the ball in from 3 yards out to produce that score with 3:01 remaining in the third quarter.

The Panthers got the ball back just before the start of the fourth period, pouncing on Green River’s third fumble of the game. Ty Herd picked up 33 yards to move the ball from the Green River 42 down to the 9. Three plays later, he took the ball in from 2 yards out, stretching the Panthers’ lead to 51-0 with 9:54 to play and triggering the fourth running clock of the season for the Panthers.

Green River averted a shutout with 1:26 left in the contest on an 8-yard touchdown pass. The score was set up by a fumble from the Panthers’ junior varsity offense, Powell’s only giveaway of the night.

“Green River is a good team, but I really think we’re a great team,” said Panther senior lineman Zach Herman after the contest. Herman was one of 10 Powell senior players honored prior to the game.

Heny finished the contest with 145 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries. Heny was also Powell’s leading receiver in the game with three receptions for 48 yards. Cragoe was 11-for-18 passing for 135 yards and a pair of scores.

As a team, Powell picked up 440 yards, including 305 along the ground.

Defensively, the Panthers surrendered 168 yards. Roughly half of that figure was accomplished on the Wolves’ final possession of the first half against a sagging Panther defense that was guarding against big plays, and on the team’s final possession of the game as the Wolves worked against a largely second-string unit from the Panthers.

Anthony Lujan finished with 18 defensive points to lead Powell. Lujan had a fumble recovery, three solo tackles and seven assists. Vince Sleep added a fumble recovery, two solo tackles and six assists to chip in with a 15-point night on defense. Heny and Matthew Widdicombe also reached double figures in the defensive point column on Friday night.

After the game, the Panthers were presented with the 3A West regular season championship trophy. Powell, 8-0 this season, will open the playoffs at 7 p.m. this Friday by hosting Lander (2-6) in a Class 3A quarterfinal contest.

The winner of that game will advance to a semifinal game the following week against the winner of the Green River-Douglas quarterfinal pairing. Riverton hosts Cody and Star Valley hosts Buffalo in the 3A quarterfinal pairings on the opposite half of the bracket.

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