“We didn’t execute well on offense tonight, and the kids know that,” said Panther head football coach Jim Stringer.
Turnovers were the name of the game on Friday night, especially early. The Panthers were guilty of an uncharacteristic two giveaways in the first quarter, squandering field position in Lander territory both times and allowing the Tigers to hang around longer than many on hand at Panther Stadium would have preferred.
Lander was never able to capitalize on the opportunities because the Tigers were unable to hold on to the football. Powell’s defense came up with five interceptions in the first half, conjuring memories of the 2011 playoff game between the two teams in which the Panthers came up with seven picks.
Hayden Cragoe came up with his state-leading ninth interception of the season on the second play from scrimmage to set the Panthers up at the Lander 40. Three plays later, the junior gave the ball back as Lander came up with a leaping interception of its own.
Schwahn got the first of his four picks a short while later, giving the Panthers the ball near midfield. A wayward snap on the Panthers’ first offensive play sent the Tigers’ offense back onto the field.
Powell’s next two possessions started inside the Panthers’ own 10, limiting the team’s offense. Schwahn struck again for an interception between the possessions and Matthew Widdicombe joined the pickoff party to spoil Lander’s first play of the second quarter.
Widdicombe’s interception set Powell up at the Lander 47 and eventually led to the game’s first score as Cragoe linked up with sophomore Carter Baxter for a 13-yard scoring strike. Vince Sleep had a nice 17-yard carry of the football on the drive to help position the Panthers for the score. The senior fullback/middle linebacker added a two-point conversion run to spot Powell to an 8-0 lead.
Panther fans were celebrating again less than two minutes later. Schwahn broke on an out route by Lander to record his third interception and race untouched 42 yards down the sideline for a score. Powell had one final chance to add points in the waning seconds of the first half, driving from its own 42 to the Lander 10, but Schwahn missed a 27-yard field goal attempt and the Panthers were forced to settle for a 15-0 lead at intermission.
Powell added to its margin midway through the third quarter, driving 70 yards in eight plays after a fumble recovery by Anthony Lujan halted another Lander possession. After picking up 18 yards on a Garrett Lynch run and another 24 yards on a Cragoe-to-Schwahn third-down pass, the Panthers were able to reach the end zone on a 17-yard toss from Cragoe to Cory Heny.
The Panthers found themselves set up again in the third quarter as Schwahn snared the last of his four interceptions and returned the ball to midfield. After a penalty-marred drive that saw infractions whistled against both teams, as well as two untimed downs to bring the quarter to a close, Powell scored on the first play of the fourth quarter on a 19-yard scamper to paydirt by Sleep.
Powell was back in the end zone 23 seconds later as the team pounced on a fumble on Lander’s first offensive play of the ensuing series. On their first play from scrimmage, Cragoe took a shot down the field with the football, which was tipped by a leaping Tiger defensive back and deflected straight into the arms of a waiting Heny in the end zone, marking the final score of the contest.
The touchdown pass was the last in a string of seven consecutive second-half completions by Cragoe. The Panthers’ signal caller finished with 229 passing yards, connecting on 14 of his 25 pass attempts. Both numbers could have been higher as the Panthers were guilty of dropping a number of balls in the first half of the contest.
Heny and Schwahn each hauled in six pass attempts from Cragoe, with Heny accounting for 100 yards in receptions and Schwahn for 91.
Powell also gained 198 yards along the ground. Lynch picked up 67 yards on five carries to spearhead that portion of the team’s offense.
Defensively, the Panthers were simply stellar. Powell allowed Lander to pick up just 46 yards of offense in the game, roughly half of which came in the first quarter. The Tigers gained just one first down over the last three quarters of the football game.
Schwahn led the way defensively with 25 points thanks to the strength of his multi-interception game. In the last eight quarters of football against Lander, the Panthers’ secondary has accounted for 13 interceptions.
Lujan added three solo and six assisted tackles for 17 defensive points.
The Panthers host Green River in a 3A semifinal game this Friday at 6 p.m. The Wolves squandered a 24-6 lead against Douglas before rallying with 1:09 to play for the winning touchdown in a 32-25 victory last Friday.
Powell defeated Green River by a 51-6 margin at Panther Stadium during the final week of the regular season. Cody, an upset winner at Riverton, travels to Star Valley in Friday’s other 3A semifinal contest.
Powell 36, Lander 0
Green River 32, Douglas 25
Star Valley 31, Buffalo 14
Cody 24, Riverton 17
Casper Natrona 54, Rock Springs 7
Chey. East 45, Chey. Central 6
Sheridan 35, Kelly Walsh 14
Gillette 42, Evanston 16
Big Horn 45, Kemmerer 6
Lovell 55, Glenrock 6
Newcastle 43, Mountain View 13
Lyman 50, Wheatland 0
Cokeville 40, Lingle-Ft. Laramie 12
Southeast 61, Shoshoni 21
Burlington 33, Upton-Sundance 6
Niobrara Co. 52, Rocky Mountain 0
Little Snake River 53, Hulett 18
Meeteetse 50, Guernsey-Sun. 48
Midwest 68, Kaycee 26
Dubois 89, Hanna-Elk Mountain 19
Green River at Powell, 6 p.m.
Cody at Star Valley, 3 p.m.
Chey. East at Casper Nat., 7 p.m.
Sheridan at Gillette, 7 p.m.
Lovell at Big Horn, 2 p.m.
Newcastle at Lyman, 1 p.m.
Southeast at Cokeville, 1 p.m.
Burlington at Niobrara Co., 6 p.m.
Meeteetse at Little Snake Rv, 1 p.m.
Midwest at Dubois, 2 p.m.