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September 03, 2008 1:09 pm

Forget last year

Written by Tribune Staff

Panthers looking to get back on winning track in ‘08
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Ryan Brandt and the fourth-ranked Powell High School Panthers are scheduled to officially open the season Friday night in a road matchup with fifth-ranked Worland. Tribune photo by David Dickey
The Powell High School Panthers will attempt to get the ‘08 season started on a winning note Friday, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. when they open the slate with a road game at Worland.
They will do so sporting a new offensive look that PHS head coach Jim Stringer hopes will help the Panthers rise above the competition in what appears to be a wide-open race for the Class 4A crown.
When it comes to contenders, many of the usual suspects are present. Buffalo, last year's 4A runner-up, boasts a lineup loaded with returning starters, and Stringer fully expects Buffalo to put a talented team on the field.
Jackson, a team that lost a number of key players from last year's state championship team, also appears ready to defend its title. Those teams currently are tied for the top spot in the first coaches and media poll released by WyoPreps.com.
“Just like last season, I think there's a lot of parity in Class 4A,” Stringer said. “Buffalo looks to be the cream of the crop, but there's a lot of other teams out there that will have a chance.”
Stringer expects Douglas, Wheatland and Rawlins to join Buffalo as the top teams in the East. As for the West, he counts his Panthers among a group of five teams with a chance to have successful seasons.
“Star Valley, Jackson, Worland and Cody should be right there in the mix,” Stringer said. “I also like our chances. If we play well, we've got a chance to beat any of the teams in 4A.”
For that to happen, the Panthers, ranked fourth in WyoPreps.com's preseason rankings, will have to make steady improvement with their new offensive system, which Stringer labels as a cross between a shotgun offense and an old-school single-wing attack.
That offense thrives on timing and ball fakes, and both of those elements were hit and miss during the Panthers' 14-8 loss to Hardin High School in last week's scrimmage played in Montana.
Stringer said his squad struggled with the offense early on, but was starting to hit its stride when starting quarterback Galen Mills (Sr., QB/S, 6-4, 175) sustained two severe cuts on his non-throwing hand. The injury, which happened early in the scrimmage, resulted in Mills leaving the lineup. He was replaced by backup signal caller Trent Gillett (Jr., QB/LB, 5-7, 150). Mills, as of mid-week, was expected to play against Worland, but only on the defensive side of the ball. That, according to Stringer, leaves the quarterbacking duties in the hands of Gillett Friday night.
“Just when we were getting things rolling, Galen got hurt,” Stringer said. “Trent came in, and we had to get our timing back. During the third quarter, we started moving the ball better.”
By the game's end, Powell had 81 yard rushing on 31 attempts. They also had completed six of 14 passes for 48 yards and one touchdown. However, PHS also suffered two interceptions.
“We definitely saw things that we have to iron out, but we also had some high points,” Stringer said.
One of the highlights, he said, was a well-executed quarterback blast that Gillett turned into a 43-yard gain.
“We did some good things, but we have to be more productive on offense,” Stringer said. “We just have to keep working toward making everything come together.”
The Panther offense, Stringer said, has plenty of solid players to help make improvement a reality. Along the line, he said he will turn to Rustin Myrick (Sr., OL/LB, 6-1, 184), Drewe Metzler (Sr., OL/DL, 5-7, 181), Randy Bullinger (Sr., OL/DL, 6-0, 183), Tyler Showalter (Sr., OL/DL, 6-0, 197), Zach Wagner (Jr., OL/DL, 6-3, 226) and Matt McArthur (Sr., OL/LB, 6-2, 198). Also expected to contribute on the line are Chris Rodriguez (Jr., TE/DL, 5-8, 131) and Ethan Klein (Jr., OL/DL, 6-1, 211).
The running back and slot back positions will be manned by Trevor Donarski (Sr., WR/DB, 5-8, 165), Billy Harshman (Jr., RB/LB, 6-3, 178), Brandon Sullivan (Sr., WR/DB, 5-8, 166) and Matt Kifer (Sr., WR/DB, 5-7, 148).
The splits in the Panthers' attack will be Gavin Mills (Sr., WR/DB, 6-5, 181), Ryan Brandt (Sr., TE/DL, 6-5, 185) and Jordan Brown (Sr., WR/DB, 6-1, 157). Gavin Mills, who has been one of the top receivers in 4A since 2006, has already verbally committed to play collegiately for Air Force.
The defense, though small when compared to last week's opponent, held Hardin to 126 yards on 29 carries. Through the air, the Panthers gave up 55 yards and one touchdown on a two-for-11 showing for Hardin's passing game.
“Defensively, we looked pretty solid,” Stringer said. “We didn't give up great bundles of yards for the most part. We did give up a 53-yard play-action pass for a touchdown, but what happened on that play is something we can correct.”
This year's defense will be manned by Wagner, Myrick, Metzler, Bullinger, Showalter, Klein, Cody Kalberer (Sr., RB/DL, 5-7, 181) and Brandt.
At middle linebacker, PHS will rely heavily on McArthur and sophomore Jimmy Seckman (no height/weight provided). Donarski, Gillett and Auston Carter (Jr., RB/LB, 5-6, 147) will play at outside linebacker. Donarski led PHS with 13 defensive points during Saturday's matchup with Hardin.
In the secondary, Galen Mills and Gavin Mills are expected to be mainstays at the safety positions. Those two will be joined by Reed Hackworth (Sr., RB/LB, 5-0, 155).
At cornerback, Sullivan and Kifer have earned starting spots. Brown and Harshman also are expected to see time at those spots as well.
On special teams, an area that shined for the Panthers during last week's scrimmage, Brandt is listed as the starter at punter, and Drayson Bratt (Jr., K, 5-8, 147) is slated to handle the kicking duties.
Stringer said he also has a number of quality return men, including Donarski, Gavin Mills and Kifer.
“Our special teams did a great job last week,” Stringer said. “They did their jobs and gave us good field position throughout the game.”