“Going in to the game, we talked as coaches about how nice it would be to get ahead early instead of this playing from behind that we’ve been doing,” said Panther head coach Travis Rapp. “It really takes a lot out of you mentally and physically when you’re always trying to catch up, so we were hoping we could score early and take some of the pressure off us.”
The Panthers had that opportunity in the game’s early minutes as Trey Oullette pinged a shot off the crossbar to immediately wake up fans on both sides of the Park County skirmish. It was Cody that drew first blood, however, scoring on a one-on-one breakaway in the 10th minute of action.
The Panthers recovered the point five minutes later as Tyler Oullette deposited an Emilio Raya cross into the back of the net in the 15th minute for a 1-1 tie. The score remained deadlocked until late in the first half when the Broncs converted a goal to regain the lead, then struck for another breakaway 90 seconds later for a 3-1 advantage which they maintained heading into the halftime intermission.
“We had an uncharacteristic mistake where we misplayed a couple balls in the middle, and you can’t afford to do that as a central defender,” said Rapp. “It’s disappointing to see that happen, because it’s a mistake you almost never see us do in practice and then we did it twice in the game.”
Rapp speculated that part of the problem may have stemmed from a surprising strategy on the part of the Broncs.
“We honestly didn’t prepare for Cody to play boot ball for 80 minutes,” said Rapp. “We had prepared for 80 minutes of solid soccer.”
The Panthers made adjustments and kept the Broncs off the scoreboard for much of the second half. Powell was unable to capitalize in the scoring column despite numerous looks.
“We had 22 shots on goal in the game and only one of them went over the crossbar, so we were on target with many of them,” said Rapp. “We did a good job of attacking the near post and possessing the ball with a purpose and attacking defenders. We shaved the post four or five times in the second half.”
It took a defensive miscue on the part of the Broncs to enable the Panthers to make a dent in the 3-1 margin. With just over eight minutes remaining, Blake Schwan intercepted a Cody pass in the center of the Panthers’ attacking zone and took it one-on-one to beat the keeper, drawing Powell to within 3-2.
Powell had another opportunity minutes later as Ty Oullette got free with the ball, but his shot was smothered by the keeper. Cody added an insurance goal with just over two minutes remaining to give the game its final margin.
“Hopefully people are seeing that we’re doing a better job attacking this season as we come forward. We’re doing a better job possessing and having a purpose with the ball,” Rapp said. “We’re picking our opportunities and attacking defenders. We just have to quit giving teams a two or three goal advantage on us. If we stop giving goals away early, we won’t have to deal with as many of the nerves.”
The Panthers had the weekend off and will also sit idle for the early portion of this week before beginning one of the most energetic stretches of the regular season.
“We play four games over an eight-day stretch. Jackson and Star Valley come in this weekend, then we have Worland on Tuesday and Cody on Thursday next week,” said Rapp, noting Saturday’s varsity game will take place at Trapper West due to the Panthers also hosting a home track invitational that day. “That’s a brutal eight days of soccer, but at least they’ll all be at home. We need to move forward and play well and be physically prepared. I thought we did a good job of playing through the choppiness against Cody and not letting it affect us.”
Next week’s games against Worland and Cody will wrap up the Panthers’ play in the Northwest quadrant for the season.