For the second week in a row Powell beat up on a visiting opponent, this time throttling the 3A East Riverton Wolverines 49-6 in a wet, windy game that was called due to approaching lightning storms. But the No.1-ranked Panthers had to first weather the storm that hit unexpectedly in the game’s opening seconds.
The Powell defense, which had shut out the Custer County Cowboys six days earlier, gave up a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage — a 68-yard pass that was caught by a wide-open Wolverine receiver who snuck behind Powell’s secondary.
“We came out flat,” said Panthers head coach Jim Stringer. “I’m glad they (Riverton) opened our eyes right from the get-go.”
Powell’s three-and-out on the ensuing possession cast a momentary shadow of doubt, but a blocked punt on Riverton’s next drive set up the Panthers first touchdown, a 11-yard touchdown run by senior Cory Heny.
Junior Kalei Smith made the extra point and the Panthers never trailed again.
“The shellshock wore off,” Stringer said. “From then on it was much better. We executed well on both sides of the ball (and) special teams played well.”
They sure did. Any momentum that Riverton had in the early going was snuffed out by two big first-quarter plays — senior Garrett Lynch’s punt block and junior Carter Baxter’s field goal block.
Stringer said the two blocks were more than just exceptional individual efforts. The Panthers designed specific blocking plays for each situation.
“On the punt we saw something on film earlier in the week that we thought we could exploit on the left side of the line,” Stringer said.
Junior Riley Stringer and Lynch teamed up to burst through the line and deflect the Wolverines’ first punt of the game.
Stringer factored in on the field goal block as well, opening up a hole for Baxter to “get his big ol’ paw up in the air,” coach Stringer said.
Both blocks were recovered and returned by senior Anthony Lujan, whose heads-up play gave the Panthers great field position.
Matthew Sweet created another special teams highlight when he made a potential touchdown-saving tackle during a third-quarter kickoff. The Wolverines ran a reverse return towards Sweet’s side of the field but couldn’t get past the junior.
“He was the only one out there ready to tackle the kid,” Stringer said. “Matthew made a good open-field tackle and (Riverton) ended up going nowhere.”
The Panthers followed up each block with a score to catapult themselves over Riverton and take a 15-6 lead after one quarter.
Before it was all said and done the Panthers piled up 49 unanswered points in just more than two and a half quarters while its defense gave Riverton no reason to believe a comeback was possible. The Wolverines gained just 28 yards on the ground and completed just five of 16 pass attempts for 107 yards, most of which came on their first (and most successful) play.
The Panthers thrived on the ground, totaling 184 yards. The rushing attack was led by Heny, who carried the ball 17 times for 94 yards and two scores.
Heny received the majority of the carries after junior running back Ty Herd was shaken up while covering a kickoff. Stringer said he should be healthy for Powell’s next game in Buffalo.
“I feel pretty blessed that from the skill positions ... I still have a lot of people I can move around and play with and not miss too much of a beat,” Stringer said.
Baxter led the defense with three tackles for a loss. Riley Stringer added two.
Powell had two takeaways in the game. Junior defensive back Brendon Phister intercepted a pass at midfield and returned it to the Riverton 17, setting up a 22-yard touchdown pass from Cragoe to Lynch.
Cory Heny intercepted a pass on Riverton’s next possession and returned it to the Wolverine 24. Heny reached the end zone on a screen pass on the next play but the score was waved off due to a block-in-the-back penalty on Powell.
Powell’s aerial attack wasn’t as efficient as its ground game, but did produce three touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Hayden Cragoe was nine-for-19 for 179 yards. He threw scores to Smith from 23 yards out, Heny from 12, and Lynch from 22.
“All of those completions came in instrumental moments,” Stringer said. “I thought the receivers did a much better job of catching the ball.”
Cragoe has also excelled at protecting the football.
“We’re two games into the season and not a single interception,” Stringer said. “To me that’s an effective passing game.”
Lynch would later score on a 30-yard power run right up the gut of the Riverton defense.
“It was blocked perfectly,” Stringer said. “He wasn’t even touched until he was 12 yards downfield.”
When Lynch was touched it was hardly noticeable as he brushed off Wolverine defenders on his way to pay dirt.
“He’s got to be pretty intimidating for someone to come up and tackle,” Stringer said.
Cragoe scored on the ground as well, on a 1-yard keeper late in the third quarter that ended up being the game’s final score. Being able to spread the ball around keeps defenses honest.
“From week to week no defensive coordinator can look at us and say, ‘If we stop Heny, we’re set,’” Stringer said. “They can’t sit back and say, ‘Here’s the kid we focus on, here’s the kid we take away.’”
Having so many weapons also fits in line with Stringer’s effort to stress team play.
“I have spent 12 years at this school trying to build a team philosophy,” Stringer said. “When you can spread the ball around and let a large number of kids score ... they all realize they’re important, they all realize they’re integral.”
The Panthers will hit the road for the first time this season Friday when they travel to Buffalo for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Cragoe, who sprained his ankle in the first quarter but completed the game, might miss a couple practices, and, if he hasn’t improved later in the week, could sit out this week’s game.
“He’s too valuable to try and play him while he’s hurt,” Stringer said.