In a game between virtually identical opponents, it seemed only right that mere inches were the difference between a state title and a silent six-hour bus ride.
Powell Panthers quarterback Hayden Cragoe ran in a 2-yard touchdown in Powell’s first overtime possession to win the 2013 Class 3A football title.
Cragoe pounded the ball up the middle, willed himself towards the end zone and then disappeared in a pile of blue Douglas Bearcat jerseys.
Three Panthers raised their arms triumphantly, and seconds later, officials confirmed the score.
It was all over.
Powell High School won its third-straight Class 3A football title Friday afternoon by beating the Douglas Bearcats 19-13 in overtime.
The win put Powell at 11-0 on the season and brought its winning streak to 25 games.
Players, coaches, fans and parents joined on the field after the game to exchange hugs and take photos as a confetti-like snow fell on their heads.
“It’s a great, fitting end to a season like this,” said head coach Jim Stringer following the victory.
The game between two teams with high-powered offenses was largely controlled by each squad’s defense.
Stringer said in his experience, defenses usually prevail over similarly talented offenses.
“A good defense is going to be able to wreak enough havoc,” the coach said.
Every facet of Powell’s team contributed to the overtime victory.
Cragoe was in position to score thanks to the job done by Powell’s offensive line.
“When it counted, they moved the ball 10 yards on three run plays and helped win us the game,” Stringer said.
And Cragoe gave it everything he had to reward his team’s hard work.
“I knew he wasn’t going to stop churning his feet until someone chopped his legs off or he was in the end zone,” Stringer said.
The offense got a chance to clinch the title because Powell’s defense came up big on the series prior.
Douglas started the overtime period on offense and ran the ball to the 2-yard line on second down, but Powell’s defensive front stuffed the Bearcats’ best efforts. A fourth-and-1 run up the middle was stopped just shy of the goal line, meaning any subsequent Powell score would end the game
“That just came down to heart,” said senior defensive end Tony Lujan. “It just came down to us playing harder than they did.”
Stringer said winning a state title in dramatic fashion is a lot of fun, though maybe not the best for one’s health.
“I’d like to maybe win one without having a heart attack at the end of it,” the coach said.
The Panthers won the game despite being shut out in the first half, something that hadn’t happened to them all season.
“We were stymied a little bit by the three-man front,” Stringer said.
The coach said his team, which faced little adversity in the 10 games prior to Friday’s title tilt, never lost composure.
“It was actually eerily calm (during halftime) and everyone was just gathering themselves up and refocusing,” Stringer said.
He told the Panthers they were “right on track,” and since there were likely only three more touchdowns to be had in the game, they needed to score at least two of them.
While Powell’s offense worked out its kinks, the defense kept it close and allowed Douglas only one score in the game’s first two quarters.
Bearcats quarterback Austyn Matthews hit running back Logan Barker for a 28-yard touchdown pass with 3:27 left in the first quarter.
The half would end with Powell preventing Douglas from making it a two-score game.
Douglas was poised to score after a 47-yard Barker run put the ball on the PHS 10. The Bearcats elected to pass on third-and-10 with 15 seconds left, but good pass coverage gave Zach Thompson enough time to come off the left edge and bring Matthews to the turf. It was one of three and a half sacks for Thompson.
The coach said the sack gave the Panthers momentum heading into the locker room.
“If we don’t make that sack and they get a chance to get the field goal team on the field, then maybe they put three on the board,” Stringer said.
Two full quarters passed between scores.
Powell’s offense finally struck with 1:49 remaining in the third quarter.
Junior wideout Kalei Smith beat his man and split Douglas’ safeties on a skinny post for a 49-yard touchdown reception.
“Hayden just threw the perfect pass and it just came right into my hands,” said Smith, who outran the diving grasp of the last Douglas defender on his way to the game-tying score.
Making up for lost time, Powell’s next touchdown would come just minutes later.
Junior Carter Baxter picked off Matthews in the middle of the field and gave Powell the ball back deep in Bearcat territory.
On the second play of the fourth quarter Cragoe rolled to his left from the 17-yard line and fired the ball to the left side of the end zone, where Powell’s Garrett Lynch was the intended target. The ball was deflected, however, and Panther senior Brendon Phister dove and snatched it out of the air for the unconventional score.
Powell’s point-after try hit the right upright, making the score 13-7 with 11:52 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Douglas answered with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Matthews to Chance Miller. The ensuing extra point kick was blocked by defensive lineman Riley Stringer and the game was tied at 13 at the end of regulation.
Cragoe was six-for-19 for 106 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, plus the winning touchdown run.
Matthews was seven-for-22 for 135 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Each quarterback was sacked four times.
Each team ran 57 offensive plays and gained nine first downs. Douglas out-gained Powell 252 to 185.
Only 18 seconds separated the teams in time of possession. Powell held the ball for 23:51 and Douglas maintained possession for 24:09.
Powell converted one of its three fourth-down attempts, while Douglas failed on both of its tries.
The Panthers benefited from nine Bearcat penalties that went for 90 yards. Powell committed four penalties for 42 yards.
Douglas’ Logan Barker ran for 121 yards on 22 carries.
Powell’s Ty Herd led the Panthers with 43 yards on 11 carries.
Phister led the Panther defense with six solo tackles and seven assisted tackles.
Panthers Cragoe and Ryan Ferro each had an interception.
Stringer was credited with a half-sack.
There was no official tally, but the eyeball test would suggest the amount of Powell fans equated, if not eclipsed, the number of Douglas fans in attendance. Powell sits approximately 377 miles from Laramie, while Douglas is less than half that at 135 miles away.
“That speaks great volumes to our fan base and the support we get in Powell,” Stringer said.