PHS head coach Jim Stringer, who was among the many coaches in Casper during the week, said he was proud of how his players handled themselves both as players and as people.
“They were class from the first day to the last and became a part of something special, raising money for the Shriner’s Children’s Hospitals,” Stringer said.
Each year both the North and South squads visit children in the hospital, and the impact is mutual between players and patients.
“It was pretty humbling because it just showed you how blessed you are,” Michael said. “Some kids aren’t like that and don’t have the opportunity to do what you do.”
At first it was hard to see such young children afflicted with disease, but Michael said the kids’ spirits lifted everyone.
“When we started playing with them it got better because they were so happy to see us,” Michael said.
Lujan said the players were happy to bring some relief to the children.
“I remember the leader of the Shrine Bowl talking to us about how much the kids appreciated it and how much it kind of boosted them to fight whatever struggle they’re in,” Lujan said. “I think we all didn’t feel bad for them, (we were) just trying to make a connection with them more than anything.”
As for the game, Stringer said each Panther made a “significant impact in the game at their respective positions.”
Cragoe’s second-quarter interception off of a tipped pass at the free safety position was Powell’s highlight of the day.
The Shrine Bowl was a new challenge for the Panthers, though, who routinely overpowered their overmatched opponents during two straight undefeated seasons and three straight Class 3A titles.
The elite competition motivated everyone to give it their all in what would be the last football game many of the players ever played.
“It’s a cool experience and it’s just fun playing with athletes,” Lujan said. “Everyone on the field is really good and you can’t take a play off.”
The fact the North ended up having its way with the South made it even more rewarding.
“When you did beat them, you knew you beat the better people in the state,” said Michael, who played the entire game at right tackle and helped the North move the ball at will against the South. “We kind of manhandled their line a lot. They were good. We were just better.”
Lujan, who played at outside linebacker and on special teams, said the Shrine Bowl was the perfect send-off before he shelved his cleats for good.
“It was a good way to end my career and I don’t think I could wish for a better game,” Lujan said. “I was definitely happy going out like that.”
Calls to Cragoe and Lynch were not returned before Monday’s deadline.