Four different Panthers scored a rushing touchdown as No. 1-ranked Powell ran all over the Cowboys in a 53-0 week zero victory.
The Panthers totaled 314 yards on the ground and gave up only 112 total yards of offense to the overmatched Cowboys from Miles City.
Powell head coach Jim Stringer said tenacious play from the offensive line led to big days for the Panthers’ backs.
“There are several instances on film where the play is being whistled dead and two or three lineman are still pushing their blocks several yards downfield,” Stringer said.
Senior Cory Heny ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns and junior Ty Herd ran for 112 yards and a score of his own.
“I do expect them to share the load pretty evenly this year,” Stringer said of his two top backs. “That doesn’t mean I won’t lean more heavily on one runner if he is really hot during a specific game.”
Senior Garrett Lynch and junior Ryan Ferro each had a running touchdown as well.
“We have several other quality backs ... that may also see significant carries if their style of running is called upon against a specific defense,” Stringer added.
Senior quarterback Hayden Cragoe added 47 yards on eight carries (5.88 yards per carry) while throwing for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior Kalei Smith caught a slant route, broke free of his defender and had nothing but 20 yards of open field between him and the end zone. His touchdown made it 25-0 early in the second half and more than atoned for an earlier drop on a two-point conversion try.
Herd caught his 25-yard score just one drive later, when Cragoe found him in the flat and Herd evaded tacklers until he made the score 33-0.
Powell’s dominating performance answered — not that anyone was asking — any questions about the Panthers’ offseason losses and ability to compete for a third straight title.
But Stringer is focused in continued improvement.
“We need to work on consistency of play and reducing the number of mental mistakes,” he said. His team was called for multiple delay of game penalties and an unsportsmanlike conduct (taunting) penalty.
“We need to cut out unnecessary penalties and make sure we are in the right place on every play,” Stringer said.
He also expects to see improvement in the team’s passing game, which he described as “mediocre” against the Cowboys.
While Cragoe threw for two touchdowns, he had just a 46.7 completion percentage, which Stringer said is more indicative of the receivers’ play than Cragoe’s.
“Hayden was seven of 15 passing but in fairness to him at least three of his incompletions (were) passes that should have been caught,” Stringer said. “It is early in the season so our timing isn’t great on some of our timing routes, but again, we know that will get better.”
Powell had plenty of chances to score thanks to its stifling defense, which kept the ball in the Panthers’ hands.
Custer County’s offense was unable to sustain anything against Powell’s ball-hawking defense. The Cowboys mustered just 38 yards rushing and 74 yards passing while turning the ball over four times.
Cowboys quarterback Ben Herzog was six for 15 (40 percent) on pass attempts with two interceptions, one each to Panther safeties Cragoe and Matthew Widdicombe.
“Our defense should create turnovers as long as the players read their keys and get themselves into position,” Stringer said. “Having intelligent athletes with great hands helps quite a bit. “
Widdicombe led the Panthers with four tackles, a sack, pass deflection, and fumble recovery. Cragoe had three tackles on the day.
The defense not only shut down the Cowboys, it got in on the scoring as well.
A fourth-quarter Cowboys’ fumble found its way into the hands of Jacob Davis, who carried the ball 48 yards for Powell’s final score of the game.
One of the few things that didn’t go Powell’s way was the kicking game. Smith was just two-for-four in point-after attempts.
“Kalei will be a very good kicker for us, he just needs more practice,” Stringer said. “His misses were very close so it shouldn’t be too difficult for him to correct.”
Stringer said there is no plan to relieve Smith of his kicking duties.
The games will start to count this Friday when Powell hosts Riverton at 7 p.m.