Suddenly, all that homecoming pageantry and the anticipation that surrounded Powell’s 13-0 win when the two schools collided as undefeated programs in the regular season seems small change by comparison. It also seems proper that these are the last two schools standing in the 3A arena.
“I think from as far back as when we met that first time, a lot of people felt that we were destined to meet again,” Panther head coach Jim Stringer said of Friday’s upcoming rematch. “People thought we were the two best programs in the state week in and week out and that’s where we’re at.”
By pretty much any metric you’d care to offer, it’s hard not to call the Panthers and the Braves the two best teams 3A has to offer this season.
Offensively, Star Valley brings 3A’s best offense to Laramie, averaging nearly 388 yards per game. The Panthers bring the second-best unit, averaging just shy of 364 yards per contest.
On defense, you can flip those ratings. Powell allows a state-low 147 yards per game to rank No. 1 in 3A. Star Valley, surrendering 233 yards per opponent, ranks No. 2.
In short, from a statistical point of view, it’s exactly what you want from a championship contest. Just don’t expect it to look exactly like the schools’ first game.
“They’ve shown a lot of stuff on film in recent weeks that they didn’t have implemented the first time around,” said Stringer.
One example, Stringer notes, is that, after facing the Panthers, Star Valley has begun to feature a bit of an old-school wrinkle on offense.
“They’ve mixed in some 1950s-era old single-wing stuff, and I love that,” Stringer said, adding that he’d based some of the Panthers’ spin offense off single-wing principles. “They’re doing some things with an unbalanced line that they weren’t using before when we saw them. Those are things we’ll have to game plan for and prepare for.”
Defensively, the Braves continue to use their 3-4 alignment, often times walking outside linebackers down to make the alignment almost appear as a 5-2 front instead. At times, the team brings a safety into the box and mirror a 5-3 alignment.
“Obviously, we go back and look at the film from the first game and look at what went well for us and see what we can take advantage of there,” said Stringer.
In the first meeting, many of those things were on the ground. Powell averaged almost 5 yards per rushing attempt against the Braves. The Panthers threw for just 111 yards in that game, one of the team’s lowest passing games of the season.
One of the biggest questions for the Panthers heading into Friday’s game is the health of Class 3A scoring leader Dewey Schwahn. The Panthers’ senior receiver, defensive back and kicker dislocated a kneecap after hauling in a long pass reception on the first play of the fourth quarter last Friday and had an uncertain status following that contest.
According to the Panthers’ coach, Schwahn’s condition has gotten clearer this week. An MRI came back showing no structural damage, meaning Schwahn will not only be in uniform, but on the field come Friday’s game.
“Dewey will go ahead and play,” said Stringer. “The knee is stable. He’ll have a brace, but there’s no structural damange. With his heart and dedication, you probably won’t notice he’s hurting. We’re pretty blessed that nothing more happened, but he was out running on the field last night and he looked pretty good. I expect he’ll have a significant role in a lot of what we do on Friday.”
The Panthers’ coach did stop short, however, from confirming that Schwahn’s role would mirror his contributions in previous weeks.
“I don’t feel comfortable saying what that role will be, but I expect that he will have a significant role in the game,” Stringer said.
Kickoff in Friday’s championship game is scheduled for 3 p.m. at the University of Wyoming’s War Memorial Stadium. The 3A championship game will be preceded by the Six-man title game between Little Snake River and Dubois.
Friday’s forecast for Laramie calls for a kickoff temperature in the low 50s. The game should be finished before a cold front bringing forecast snowfall arrives in town, but the approaching front is expected to furnish sustained winds of 20 mph and higher throughout the game.
“It’ll affect the kicking game some, but I don’t think it will alter our normal game plan,” said Stringer. “We’re just focused on preparing for the game and, aside from that, we’re going to enjoy the opportunity to go there and play. It’s a special place to get to play a football game.”