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November 06, 2012 8:51 am

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Senior Vince Sleep runs downfield with the football during Friday’s 13-3 victory over Green River. The Panthers face Star Valley for the state 3A title this Friday in Laramie.  Senior Vince Sleep runs downfield with the football during Friday’s 13-3 victory over Green River. The Panthers face Star Valley for the state 3A title this Friday in Laramie. Tribune photo by John Wetzel

Panthers fight past Green River to reach title game

If there was one glaring question mark on the Powell Panthers’ 2012 football resume going into Friday night’s semifinals, it was how the team would respond if faced with adversity. After all, when your average victory margin during the year has been 38 points, there’s not much room for adversity.

On Friday night, however, the No. 1 Panthers finally got a taste of pressure and passed the test, holding off a persistent No. 5 Green River team by a 13-3 final score to qualify for the 3A title game in Laramie this Friday. The Panthers carry a 10-0 record into that contest. 

The win may have come with a price, however. Senior captain Dewey Schwahn, Class 3A’s scoring leader by a wide margin this season and also one of the state’s top receivers, injured a knee while hauling in a 24-yard reception to open the fourth quarter. His Green River tackler immediately motioned for the Panthers’ sideline to come onto the field to check out Schwahn.

The senior was helped to the sideline and spent the remainder of the game on the trainer’s table. After the contest, Schwahn could be seen both on crutches and being carted around the field.

“He dislocated a kneecap and they were able to relocate it on the sideline,” Panther head coach Jim Stringer said of the injury. “We’re hopeful that’s all that happened.”

Stringer was waiting to learn the results of an MRI that was performed on the knee. The test should let the team know if there was any ligament damage or if Schwahn will be available for Friday’s championship game.

“If all he did was dislocate it, then in a day or two he should feel better and we should be able to have him available,” said Stringer.

As has been the case much of the season, the Panthers’ defense established control early. Powell forced a fumble on the Wolves’ first possession, but saw its drive stall at the Wolves’ 40. After forcing a three-and-out on defense, the Panthers took control at their own 29. Seven plays later, they were on the scoreboard.

Cory Heny hauled in a 39-yard reception on a third-and-5 play to move the ball from Powell’s 34 to the Green River 27. After another Heny reception from quarterback Hayden Cragoe converted a second third-and-5 on the drive, Cragoe linked up with Schwahn for a 15-yard touchdown down the left sideline.

Powell saw two more first-half drives stall out in Green River territory as the Wolves were clearly more focused than the team that got run out of town 51-6 by the Panthers to close the regular season. While Green River successfully held Powell’s offense at every opportunity in the second quarter, the Wolves were never able to threaten. In part because the Wolves were never able to snap the football.

Powell’s defense held Green River to just six offensive plays and 9 yards of offense in the second quarter. The Panthers surrendered just two first downs in the first half to Green River.

Without points on the scoreboard though, the game remained nervously close. It got even more so early in the second half.

Garrett Lynch fumbled while reaching for extra yards on the Panthers’ second play from scrimmage, giving the ball to Green River just 38 yards from pay dirt. Powell’s defense denied the Wolves a touchdown, but Green River was able to boot a 27-yard field goal between the uprights to draw within 7-3.

From there, the slugfest continued. The Pathers drove from their 32 to the Green River 18 on the next series, but stalled out offensively. Schwahn’s attempt at a 35-yard field goal was struck a bit thin and fell short of the cross bar.

The Panthers got the ball back at their own 23 late in the period and used nine plays spanning the third and fourth quarters, including the play on which Schwahn would get injured, to score an insurance touchdown.

Lynch took the ball the final 9 yards for the score, giving the Panthers a 10-point cushion with 9:26 to play. Green River consumed much of the remainder of the fourth quarter on a drive that lasted 10 plays, but never got inside the Panther 40 as Powell’s defense remained stingy against big plays.

The Wolves’ final drive came to an abrupt end, courtesy of a Cragoe interception.  The Panthers were able to run out the clock from there.

For the night, Powell’s defense limited Green River to just five first downs, 137 total yards of offense and 37 offensive plays.

“Defensively, I thought we did a great job,” said Stringer. “We were able to get them off the field in a timely manner and that allowed us to control the ball on offense. I’m extremely proud of the kids on both sides of the ball. They did well against a Green River team that came in here and played for broke.”

Vince Sleep led the Panthers on the ground with 73 yards on 16 carries. Powell also picked up 45 yards from Heny. Cragoe was 9-for-17 through the air for 157 yards as Powell’s offense accounted for 308 yards on the night.

The Panthers play for the 3A state title at 3 p.m. on Friday at the University of Wyoming’s War Memorial Stadium. Top-ranked Powell will square off against No. 2 Star Valley, which defeated Cody in the semifinals by a 19-6 final score.

The Panthers and Braves played to a 13-0 Powell win on a rain-soaked homecoming night contest at Panther Stadium. Kickoff in that game was delayed by more than an hour due to pre-game lightning in the area.

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