Including the results of a Week 0 game against Miles City, the Panthers have outscored their opponents 380-40 this season. Lander has been outscored 104-195 if you count its 22-6 win over Kemmerer in Week 0.
Powell brings Class 3A’s stingiest defense into the contest, allowing opponents a paltry 161 yards of total offense per game. Lander brings in an offense that ranks 12th out of the 12 schools in 3A. The Tigers produced fewer than 200 yards per contest during the regular season, despite avoiding both Powell and Green River during the non-conference portion of their schedule.
Powell fields the No. 2 offense in the state. Lander, the No. 7 defense.
As one-sided as those numbers make the contest appear, Powell High School head coach Jim Stringer knows none of it matters. The playoffs are football’s second season, and there is no mercy or second chance afforded to teams who don’t show up prepared to play.
If the team needed further motivation for the postseason, consider this. Despite a 51-6 thrashing of the then-No. 4 Green River Wolves last week, the Panthers lost their unanimous status in the final Wyopreps coaches and media poll of the year. The Panthers picked up just 19 of the 20 votes cast, but remain a clear No. 1 in the state.
Star Valley, in the No. 2 position once again, received the lone holdout vote. Riverton, Douglas and Green River round out this week’s top five. Buffalo was the only other school mentioned in the polls.
The Panthers have passed every test so far this season, most of them — like last Friday’s 51-6 win over Green River — with flying colors. No opponent has picked up more than 300 yards against a Panther defense that fields three of the state’s top 13 defensive points producers.
Leading that charge once again is senior Vince Sleep, who ranks third in Class 3A in defensive points as the Panthers’ middle linebacker and anchor for the defensive unit. Fellow outside linebacker, junior Anthony Lujan ranks eighth in 3A in defensive points while junior defensive back Matthew Widdicombe is currently listed at No. 13 on the charts.
And just in case that’s not good enough, junior Hayden Cragoe leads Class 3A with eight interceptions.
The challenge for that defensive unit come Friday night will be to keep Lander’s offense shackled as it was throughout much of the regular season. The Tigers average 104 yards along the ground, but pick those yards up with a smattering of backs as no Tiger is averaging even 50 yards per contest.
Through the air, Andrew Von Rein ranks seventh among 3A quarterbacks, averaging 86 passing yards per game. The Tigers’ passing game has been susceptible to the interception this season, however. Lander is throwing two picks for every touchdown pass.
Against a Powell defense that has forced 32 turnovers this season, including 22 interceptions, that’s a stat that could have many in orange and black licking their lips in anticipation this Friday night. Overall, the Panthers are a plus-23 for the season in the important takeaway/giveaway count.
Jess Oldham is the top target for the Lander passing attack, pulling in 49 yards worth of receptions per contest.
While the Panthers’ defense would appear to have a clear leg up on its Lander offensive counterpart, Powell will want to make certain it doesn’t relax when it has the football. The Tigers field two of Class 3A’s top defenders. Jason Hanson ranks No. 12 in defensive points for the season. One spot ahead is teammate Ross Sloss, who also has the distinction of ranking among Class 3A’s leaders in tackles for loss, with seven, and fumble recoveries, with five.
Lander’s defense has turned in some impressive results. The Tigers held Douglas to just nine points in a game the Bearcats survived 9-7. The team also held Buffalo to 14 points in another tightly contested game that eventually went in the books as a 14-8 Lander loss.
Lander’s two victories this season were a 10-7 win over Torrington and a 37-0 shutout of Rawlins. Lander enters the playoffs fresh off a 43-6 loss to 3A East champion Riverton.
Friday night’s game could be the coldest of the year for the Panthers. While the chance for precipitation has dropped throughout the week, the forecast calls for temperatures that could fall from the low 30s possibly into the 20s as the contest rolls along.
Kickoff for Friday’s game will be 7 p.m. Stadium gates will open for seating beginning at 6 p.m. Since the contest is a playoff game, admission will be charged with prices set at $5 for adults and $3 for students of any age.
The winner of Friday’s game in Powell will face off against the winner of the Green River-Douglas game in a semifinal contest next week. That contest is taking place in Douglas at 1 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The Panthers would host that semifinal game provided the team takes care of business this week.
Riverton hosts Cody and Star Valley hosts Buffalo in the other 3A quarterfinal contests.