Cory Heny ran for 102 yards and the Panther defense held Class 3A’s third-ranked rushing offense to 81 yards as Powell cruised to a 30-7 road victory Saturday afternoon.
“I know that when my team executes well they’re capable of putting up a lot of points and my defense is capable of stopping anybody,” said head coach Jim Stringer.
It had been 14 years and seven contests since Powell last came home victorious from Afton, and Stringer is happy to get that monkey off his back.
“That’s a place that’s kind of been Powell’s Kryptonite,” he said. “This go-around we just have such a good group of men.”
And a bit of help from Mother Nature.
Stringer said his team benefited from the harsh weather that postponed the game from Friday evening to Saturday afternoon. The Panthers stayed in Jackson Hole Friday night, watched as Jackson fell to Cody 32-8, had a walkthrough practice Saturday morning, and enjoyed a relatively brief one-and-a-half hour bus ride to Star Valley on game day.
“It worked out in our favor,” Stringer said. “We were able to get to Jackson and have a good meal ... and a good night’s sleep.”
In years past the Panthers struggled with stiff legs and low energy after the eight-plus hour ride to Afton, but felt fresh after getting a day of rest in Jackson.
Heny ran for 102 yards on 15 carries and caught five balls for 44 yards to lead the Powell attack.
“He’s my grinder,” Stringer said. “He ran with power and made one cut at the point of attack. He just ran extremely well.”
Heny’s fourth-quarter touchdown run capped off a 99-yard Panther drive that sealed the game in Powell’s favor.
“That was probably the backbreaker there,” Stringer said.
The Panthers ran the ball out to the 4-yard line to give themselves some breathing room and then used a 15-yard pass interference penalty on a Star Valley defender who was beat by wideout Kalei Smith to begin their march across the length of the field.
“(Quarterback) Hayden (Cragoe) did a great job spreading the ball around,” Stringer said.
Cragoe threw a touchdown and an interception on 11-for-24 passing for 130 yards. He added 28 yards on the ground on seven quarterback keepers.
Powell’s drive started when Brendon Phister picked off a Trace Haderlie pass to end Star Valley’s red zone threat.
The Braves, who came into Saturday’s contest averaging 262.2 rushing yards per game, tried to pass for a score against the Panthers in a situation in which they would have normally tried to run it in against other teams.
Stringer said Powell focused on taking away Star Valley’s run game to make them one-dimensional. The Braves were forced into a lot of third-and-long situations at which point Stringer let his defensive lineman “pin their ears back” and rush the passer.
“Even when we didn’t record a sack, Haderlie was pressured hard,” Stringer said.
Garrett Lynch was just one of the Panthers that made himself comfortable in the Star Valley backfield. Lynch recorded a pass deflect and a sack on the same play in the first quarter when he batted a pass thrown by the scrambling Haderlie back into the quarterback’s hands, and then made the tackle for an 11-yard loss.
The sack made it third-and-22 and an obvious passing down for Star Valley. Haderlie lined up in the shotgun but his pass attempt was picked off by Powell linebacker Carter Baxter.
Haderlie completed only four passes for 75 yards on 21 attempts. The Braves’ signal caller threw a late 78-yard touchdown and was intercepted twice.
“They were in the right positions and they did their jobs,” Stringer said. “We were able to force the issue because we prepared for it.”
Powell opened the scoring with a 30-yard field goal by Jaron Smith on the first drive of the game. Stringer said the Panthers normally elect to kick off in the first half to “set the tone on defense” but chose Saturday — at the behest of his seniors — to receive the opening kick and try to get an early lead.
Running back Ty Herd added 71 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown, on 16 carries.
Lynch caught Cragoe’s only touchdown pass in the second quarter to put Powell up 17-0.
Ryan Ferro tacked on Powell’s last score, a 3-yard run midway through the fourth quarter.
The Panthers will celebrate homecoming Friday in a matchup against Worland. At 3-2, the Warriors are one of Class 3A’s surprise teams, and Stringer said he isn’t taking them lightly.
“I’m a little worried about Worland kind of being a little bit of a shocker,” Stringer said. “They’re definitely a team that’s knowing how to win when they’re getting their opportunities.”
The coach said he will remind his players of the 2010 Panthers, who were 5-0 until an 0-5 Worland team upset them 21-18 Oct. 8, 2010. Stringer wants to ensure his team doesn’t fall victim to the Warriors again.
The Panthers will aim for 6-0 when they kick off against the Warriors at 7 p.m. Friday.