The Powell Panthers withstood every trick the Torrington Trailblazers could throw at them during a 48-20 win during last Friday’s first-round playoff game in Powell.
Ty Herd rushed for 170 yards — including a 75-yard score — and the Panther defense forced three turnovers as Powell rolled for its 23rd-straight win (regular- and post-season).
The Panthers will host the Cody Broncs in this Friday’s semifinal matchup. It will be the second time in four weeks the rivals square off at Panther Stadium.
Powell faced Torrington in the regular season, too, and beat the Trailblazers 39-15 on their home turf Sept. 20.
Head coach Jim Stringer said it’s always tougher to beat a team the second time around, and he was impressed by the Trailblazers’ go-for-broke game plan.
“They came with a really unorthodox set of formations and a lot of trick plays,” Stringer said.
Double pass, fake punt, you name it, Torrington tried “every trick in the book.”
Torrington’s 20 points were more than any team scored on the Panthers in the regular season, though two late scores came against Powell’s junior varsity defense. Still, Stringer credited the opponent for their preparation and execution, which kept the Panther defense ready for anything.
“You have to be prepared for all kinds of possibilities,” Stringer said.
Powell shut out the Trailblazers in the first half and produced three takeaways throughout the game to keep momentum on the Panther sidelines.
Cornerback Cory Heny picked off his fifth pass of the season (his first of the playoffs), cornerback Brendon Phister recovered a fumble forced by defensive end Garrett Lynch and defensive tackle Riley Stringer recovered another forced by Zach Thompson.
Phister also recorded three tackles for losses.
Anthony Lujan didn’t get in on the turnover party, but inflicted his own damage on Torrington ball carriers.
The senior linebacker recorded four solo tackles, 10 assisted tackles and two tackles for loss.
“He was flying all over the field,” Stringer said.
The coach contributed Lujan’s success to individual effort as well as the job done up front by the defensive line.
“Our two tackles were double-teamed on every single play,” Stringer said. “Our defensive ends were just having a heyday causing havoc in the backfield.”
Herd carried the ball just 10 times but two runs of more than 40 yards led to a season-high 170 yards and two scores.
Stringer said Powell made some blocking adjustments specific to Torrington’s defensive scheme, and it paid off.
Herd was often “untouched until he got to the second level.” Stringer said. “He was able to keep his feet moving and do a little spin move here and there.”
Heny, Powell’s leading rusher, had a surprisingly modest day on the ground. The player responsible for the most points per game (13) in Class 3A during the regular season ran for just 31 yards on 10 attempts and one ground score. He also caught three passes for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Quarterback Hayden Cragoe ran for 44 yards and two touchdowns on six carries and completed nine of 15 passes for 134 yards and two scores.
“Just a total game, he was pretty spot on,” Stringer said.
Cragoe’s longest pass of the day landed in the hands of junior wide receiver Kalei Smith, who hauled it in for a 40-yard touchdown reception.
Smith had a second catch for 6 yards.
“Kalei’s a very dynamic receiver,” Stringer said. “He has the ability to go up and get the ball at its high-point.”
Smith’s superior athleticism makes him a prime target when he faces one-on-one man coverage.
Stringer said Powell’s wealth of offensive weapons makes it near impossible for defenses to focus multiple defenders on any one Panther for an entire game.
“We are always able to, at some point in the game, isolate him,” Stringer said. “If they want to double up Kalei ... we still have very good receivers on the other side of the ball.”
The deep and balanced offense is what got Powell to the playoffs with Class 3A’s best scoring offense (46.6 points per game) and second-best in terms of yards (410 per game).
Powell’s offense will try to play a more complete game this week than it did the last time it faced its semi-final foe.
Cody comes to town to take another shot at taking down the Panthers, who beat the Broncs 35-0 Oct. 25.
But Stringer wasn’t pleased with every aspect of his team’s performance during that win.
“We really didn’t execute very well,” Stringer said.
“You can bet Cody’s going to come in here with nothing to lose and a chip on their shoulder,” he said. “They’re going to step in here and bring a physical and emotional game.”
Stringer said he will make certain this week in practice that his players’ intensity will match that of the Broncs.
“This is a different season,” he said of the playoffs.
Elsewhere in postseason action, Cody defeated Lander 49-19, Star Valley defeated Riverton 52-10 and Douglas defeated Jackson 52-14.
Douglas will host Star Valley in this week’s other semifinal tilt. The undefeated Bearcats beat the Braves 34-17 Sept. 20 in Douglas.