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Green River returns to Powell for playoffs

Semifinal contest determines who gets to state in Laramie

The Powell Panthers host Green River for the second time in three weeks. Last time, the stake was the 3A West regular season conference title and home field advantage for the playoffs. This time around, the prize is even bigger — a trip to Laramie.

The Panthers and Wolves meet for the fourth time in two years this Friday when the Wyoming High School Activities Association Class 3A playoffs resume. Powell captured a 51-6 victory over Green River when the schools met to close out the regular season.

Don’t expect there to be much said about that game this week, however. The Panthers are all too familiar with history. One year ago, Powell was humbled in a lopsided loss to Green River to close out the regular season, only to travel south two weeks later and deliver a stunning victory to derail what appeared to many to be Green River’s march to the championship. Now, it is the Panthers looking to avoid that fate.

“We just keep preaching that every game is a new game,” said Panther head coach Jim Stringer. “We have to go in with the same attitude and the same intensity that got us to this point. We have to give the same effort we did the first time we played them because we know they’ll come up here rejuvenated and loaded for bear, so we need to stay focused and continue to improve on ourselves.”

The Panthers looked shaky offensively in last week’s 36-0 victory over Lander. Powell was guilty of a pair of uncharacteristic miscues early in that contest and managed just one offensive touchdown in the first half as the Tigers were able to hold close early on.

That hardly mattered in the face of a Panther defensive unit that forced eight Lander turnovers and held the Tigers to just 46 total yards of offense. Powell’s defense, which ranks as 3A’s stingiest unit to opponents, now gives up an average of just 148 yards per game to opponents. The Panthers are forcing nearly four and a half turnovers per game on average.

“A lot of it has been being in the right place at the right time,” said Stringer. “The kids are staying disciplined on defense, but they’ve also been aggressive as far as flying around, getting to the football and forcing things.”

Those characteristics were on full display in Powell’s first meeting with the Wolves. Powell jumped on a fumble on the first offensive play from scrimmage and converted the opportunity to points to get an early lead on Green River. The Panthers also held Green River — then the state’s leading offense — to less than half its usual output. As a result, the Wolves now field the No. 3 offense in Wyoming 3A, averaging 360 yards per game. The Panthers average 372 per contest to rank second.

Few changes are expected in offensive and defensive schematics from the Wolves. The focal point for the Panthers will continue to be Green River quarterback Zack Huber, who ranks No. 2 on the all-purpose yardage list for Class 3A this season.

“They did try some unbalanced line stuff against Douglas last week,” said Stringer. “I expect they’ll give that a try against us and see if they can catch us with it.”

Green River advanced to the 3A semifinals with a 32-25 road victory over defending state runner-up Douglas last week. After building a 24-8 lead in the third quarter, Green River surrendered back-to-back touchdowns to Douglas and trailed 25-24 late before Huber directed the game-winning drive and go-ahead touchdown with 1:09 remaining.

Kickoff between Green River and Powell is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, one hour earlier than normal. Stadium gates will open one hour prior to the start of the contest. The forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-40s, winds in the 10-15 mph range and a slim chance of rain.

“It’s just another game,” said Stringer. “We’ll face it in the same manner. I haven’t seen any significant changes in the kids’ demeanor. We’re practicing and preparing like we do for each game and we’re just trying to enjoy the ride a little bit.”

Cody travels to Star Valley in Class 3A’s other semifinal contest on Friday.

Playoff scoreboard

Green River (6-3)
at Uintah, UT    34-27ot*
at Douglas    14-20
vs. Riverton    34-28
at Buffalo    34-14
vs. Cody    34-21
at Worland    48-13
vs. Jackson    34-6
vs. Star Valley    0-42
at Powell    6-51
at Douglas    32-25

Powell (9-0)
at Miles City, Mont.     38-0*
at Riverton     21-0
vs. Buffalo     41-14
vs. Torrington     49-7
at Jackson     63-6
vs. Star Valley     13-0
at Worland     63-7
at Cody     41-0
vs. Green River     51-6
vs. Lander    36-0
* — Week 0 games not counted in overall record

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