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3A West champs again!

Members of the Powell Panthers football team reach for the 3A West Conference trophy following their 35-0 win against Cody Friday night. The victory clinched the West’s No. 1 seed for Powell. Members of the Powell Panthers football team reach for the 3A West Conference trophy following their 35-0 win against Cody Friday night. The victory clinched the West’s No. 1 seed for Powell. Tribune photo by Dante Geoffrey

The Powell Panthers played vintage smash-mouth football to shut out the Cody Broncs 35-0 and clinch the 3A West Conference title Friday night in Panther Stadium.

Quarterback Hayden Cragoe rushed for 71 yards and three touchdowns, running back Ty Herd added 72 rushing yards and a score and the Panther defense came up with four turnovers and eight points to hand the Broncs their second-straight conference loss.

Powell (7-0, 4-0 in the East)) beat Cody decidedly on the ground. Cragoe was 8-for-20 for 170 yards and an interception through the air, but did more than enough with his feet to propel the Panthers to victory. Powell out-gained Cody by 300 total yards, 406-106.

Senior Garrett Lynch added 58 yards on four carries and junior Kalei Smith gained 94 yards on just two receptions.

The win locked the Panthers into the west’s No. 1 seed and will host the east’s No. 4 Torrington (3-4, 2-2 in the East) in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 1.

”It feels good to continue winning and continue putting good games together,” said head coach Jim Stringer. “The biggest part was getting that home field advantage throughout the playoffs.”

Powell opened the scoring against Cody while its offense was on the sideline.

Cody fumbled the opening kickoff, but recovered the ball and started its drive at its own 6-yard line. A three-and-out forced the Broncs to punt, but the Cody punter elected to run out the back of his own end zone rather than risk a block from the oncoming Panther rush.

The Panthers’ offense took over but Cragoe threw an interception on third-and-four to give the Broncs the ball back at their own 46.

Powell’s defense would quickly atone for Cragoe’s mistake when defensive back Brendon Phister got a pick of his own off Cody quarterback John Beaudrie — the first of four for the Panthers.

Cragoe capitalized on the Broncs’ mistake and rushed it in himself for Powell’s first touchdown of the game.

A Cody punt set up Powell’s second touchdown drive that culminated when running back Ty Herd dashed into the end zone from 41 yards out and gave Powell a 16-0 lead after the first quarter.

The defense would again give the ball back to the Panthers. With the Broncs attempting to push the ball deep into Panther territory, defensive lineman Riley Stringer found himself alone, with no one between himself and the quarterback.

Stringer had split a double team with ease and that’s when it hit him — screen play. He quickly stopped rushing the quarterback and retreated a few steps back towards the line of scrimmage, getting his arms up in time and falling to the ground with the ball clutched to his body.

“When he sniffed out the screen he planted that foot and stepped back and just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” said coach Stringer, Riley’s father.

The unlikely interception delighted the Powell sideline, which erupted into grins and hollers. Stringer’s interception, however exciting, led only to a Powell punt. The defense played strong for all 48 minutes, but the offense hit a lull as the second quarter began.

The Panthers’ next possession would end due to another turnover. A 54-yard completion from Cragoe to Kalei Smith would have given Powell the ball inside Cody’s 10-yard line but the ball was stripped from Smith as he fought for extra yardage.

Cody was unable to move the ball and punted it to Powell, which promptly punted it right back.

The Panther defense then put the burden of scoring on its own shoulders and came up big with the Broncs starting at their own 15-yard line.

On a third-and-15 for Cody, Beaudrie looked to pass a quick slant to the right side, but safety Matthew Widdicombe jumped in the throwing lane, intercepted the pass in stride and returned it 20 yards for the second defensive score of the game and a 22-0 halftime lead.

Widdicombe had three solo tackles, four assisted and one tackle for a loss to go along with his pick six. The senior also caught one pass for 29 yards.

“He was sure impacting this game on both sides of the ball and special teams,” Stringer said of Widdicombe.

The Panther offense, which previously scored with less than a minute remaining in the first quarter, was held without a score for all of the second and most of the third, until another deep pass to Smith set up Cragoe’s second touchdown run of the game. Stringer said a lack of execution coupled with avoidable penalties slowed down the Panther attack.

“We made too many silly mistakes, too many procedure penalties,” Stringer said. “Those are penalties that I just don’t tolerate.”

Cragoe would strike one more time, running in a 10-yard touchdown with 4:48 remaining in the game. The point-after would make it 35-0 in favor of Powell to end the scoring.

“He ran like a beast,” Stringer said. “He did a good job running with power.”

Cragoe also had an interception in the contest. The senior safety picked off a deep pass by Beaudrie and was tackled at Powell’s own 1-yard line.

Kalei Smith reclaimed his placekicking duties Friday night after Jaron Smith (no relation), who started the past three games, was unavailable to play against Cody. Kalei made three PATs, missed one, and had one blocked.

It’s now been more than two calendar years since Powell has lost a football game, and it will take only one more win for the Panthers to complete their second undefeated regular season. The Panthers will travel to Green River Friday to take on the struggling Wolves, who are 1-6 overall and 0-4 in conference play just a year after making it to the Class 3A semifinals (a 13-3 loss to Powell).

The game at Green River will have no bearing on playoff seeding for Powell, though Stringer said he plans to treat it like any other game.

“We’re going to go into this week’s preparation just like every other week,” Stringer said. “I want to go out and see us execute really well in that first half.”

Stringer said he has no plans to rest starters, unless the score affords him the opportunity.

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