“It was a disappointing ending to the game, but as you go back through and watch the film, there were some things that we did very well,” said Panther coach Jim Stringer on Monday morning. “We just didn’t hold on to the ball very well in the second half, and especially when you have a lead, you need to be able to do that and run some time off.”
Trailing 20-6 at halftime, Miles City ran 45 offensive plays in the second half, compared to just 10 for the Panthers. Combined with a line that outweighed Powell’s defensive front by roughly 70 pounds per man, that disparity eventually tipped the scales in favor of the Montana school.
The difference was most apparent in the final 12 minutes, when the Cowboys sprinkled in some no-huddle offense to further take advantage of a fatiguing Panther defense.
First, it was an 84-yard drive where Miles City senior workhorse Tyler Essex carried the ball on 11 of 13 plays, eventually bulling his way in from 3 yards out for the first points of the second half. The score drew the Montana visitors to within a touchdown.
Then, after winning the footrace to a soft kickoff that floated into dead space behind the front line of the Panthers’ kick coverage unit, Miles City resumed its battering ram style, working the ball 36 yards in 10 plays for the go-ahead score.
The Panthers’ offense finally took the field for the first time in the fourth quarter with less than 5:30 remaining. After completing a 16-yard pass, Powell quarterback Keithen Schwahn was intercepted on the next play.
Miles City used a series of eight consecutive rushing plays to burn all but 90 seconds off the clock. The Cowboys finally went to the air for a fourth-down conversion deep in Panther territory, earning a first down and enabling the team to take a knee.
Powell could do nothing but watch helplessly as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
The lopsided nature of the second half took a considerable amount of shine off Powell’s first-half accomplishments. After Cooper Wise intercepted a Miles City pass in the endzone to end the Cowboys’ first possession, the Panthers found paydirt on a drive assisted by a 65-yard quarterback run from Schwahn.
Miles City knotted the contest early in the second period on a leaping fourth-down catch in the endzone. The 14-yard scoring strike knotted the contest at 6-6 following a Panther block of the point-after attempt.
The Panthers added a pair of touchdowns in the final five minutes of the first half. Following a fumble recovery at the Powell 20, the Panthers converted the short field into points as Keithen Schwahn threw a perfect fade pattern to brother Dewey Schwahn for a 12-yard touchdown.
Zach Thiel, part of a Panther secondary that produced 12 regular-season interceptions a year ago, put Powell back in business moments later. Thiel got in the way of Miles City’s third play of the following possession, returning the ball all the way to the Powell 22. Schwahn hooked up with Olie Olson from 4 yards out to give Powell its third score of the game.
Like the first point-after attempt of the game, however, the Panthers saw their extra point kick blocked, leaving the team’s lead at 20-6 entering intermission.
“We really got them out of their element in the second quarter,” said Stringer. “They were going to the air more than they wanted to and that played into the strength of our defense.”
The momentum carried over to the second half as Powell successfully recovered an onside kick to begin the third quarter. The Panthers fumbled the ball away shortly thereafter though, signaling the start of the game’s momentum shift.
Overall, the Panthers gained 193 yards on 37 offensive plays. Keithen Schwahn picked up 66 yards on eight carries to lead the way for Powell. Josh Cragoe added 38 yards of offense, evenly split between rushing and receiving.
Powell was 7-for-11 through the air for 81 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Olson pulled down three passes for 44 yards, part of a 61-yard offensive performance for the senior.
Defenisvely, the charge was led by Vince Sleep. The No. 8 defensive point-scorer in the state of Wyoming last season showed he was in midseason form with seven solo and 11 assisted tackles. Sleep also recorded a pair of tackles for loss and a fumble recovery to finish the night with 36 defensive points.
Cragoe added four solo and 12 assisted tackles for 20 defensive points. Cooper Wise had 19 points thanks in part to a pair of pass breakups and an interception. Brendon Phister added an 18-point night with two solo and 14 assisted tackles.
Olson, Thiel, Tyler Patterson, Anthony Lujan and Garrett Lynch also finished in double figures on the Panthers’ defensive chart.
Despite the defensive effort, the Cowboys used their better than 2-to-1 offensive play advantage to amass 383 yards of offense. Miles City rushed the ball 55 times for 232 yards. They threw the ball 21 times, completing 14 for 151 yards while being picked off twice.
Individually, Essex proved to be a workhorse for the Montana club, finishing with 181 combined rushing and receiving yards.
“We’ll work to improve things like our special teams play and work on our blocking for four full quarters,” said Stringer. “The things we see on game film that looked sloppy, we’ll work to address those this week. We’ll add a bit more to the offense and be ready to go against Riverton.”
Powell plays its first official game this Friday at home against Riverton. The game will be a rematch of last year’s state quarterfinal game, which ended 10-3 in Riverton’s favor. The Panthers defeated Riverton at home to begin the 2010 season.