Senior Night was bittersweet for the Powell High School boys soccer team. A second-half push by the visiting Cody Broncs gave the Panthers’ rivals the season sweep, taking a 2-0 win at Panther Stadium.
“What I was observing was we weren’t getting first to the ball, we weren’t pressing and working hard to control and keep the ball as hard as they were for most of the game. That’s what I think it mostly came down to,” said PHS head coach Jeff Dent. “They were stepping in and pushing us off the ball, and we weren’t responding to it very well.”
As was the case in the first contest between the two teams, both sides were evenly matched, though Cody (9-7, 2-2) clearly controlled the action for the first 20 minutes of play. Senior keeper Gabe Katz turned away six shots on goal in that period, as the Panthers’ (3-9-2, 0-4) defense struggled to find their footing.
“We weren’t aggressively seeking the ball in that first half as much as we should have been,” Dent said. “We tend to start slow; we don’t come prepared. We’ve been working on that aspect of the game, along with all of our finishing drills. We’ve been working on the mental game, being ready as soon as the whistle blows. But I don’t think that’s really sunk in yet.”
Midway through the first half, the coach switched from Katz to Ashton Brewer, though not for poor play; Katz had been peppered with shots from the opening whistle, and his solid play kept the Broncs off the scoreboard. But with Cody keeper Gabe Jones booming kicks that would at times travel the length of the field, that required aggressive play on the ball from Powell’s netminder to eliminate one-on-one situations.
“Ashton [Brewer] has a more physical game. He gets out into the field when they kick the long ball, and Cody likes to do that,” Dent explained. “Ashton can get out there and catch that ball or boot it, whichever he has to do.”
The coach added that, “Gabe was doing an excellent job in net. He just wasn’t coming out of the goal a lot. To negate that Cody keeper’s boot is an excellent thing.”
Brewer’s presence in net coincided with the emergence of Powell’s offense, as the Panthers began spending more time on the attack. Cody’s defense was up to the challenge, however, and the first half ended in a 0-0 tie.
Cody broke the stalemate about two minutes into the second half, as Kolbe Brown found the back of the net to give the Broncs a 1-0 lead. The first goal seemed spark the Panthers, and the team stepped up its aggressiveness in the final frame. As players began to tire, Dent began subbing in fresh legs in an effort to keep the pressure on Cody’s defense.
“It got to the point where I was changing out guys every five minutes,” Dent said. “It seemed like the team really became hungry at that point. They wanted the ball, and they wanted to get upfield, and it kind of changed their whole mental attitude. It was a much better game from that point.”
Cody’s Trae Paul converted on a free kick in the game’s closing seconds for the Broncs’ insurance goal.
With Katz, defender Jace Smith and forward Cesar Corro the Powell team’s only seniors, Dent knew he’d have to rely on his youth movement; much of his bench is comprised of underclassmen. But strides have been made over the course of the season that convinced the coach his youngsters were ready to play.
“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t want those young kids in there, because of their inexperience,” Dent said. “But now they’re getting in there and just playing hard. They’ve got to the point where, even if they screw up a play, they get right back in it.”
Freshman defender Jesse Trotter was moved to forward for the Cody game and responded well to the pressure.
“He’s [Trotter] just going like a crazy guy: Pushing the ball up, making good passes, making awesome runs,” Dent said. “I’m very happy with Jesse’s play these last few games.”
The Panthers managed just five shots on goal for the game, led by Rob Sessions with three. Jace Smith and Steven Shopa added a shot apiece. Katz and Brewer combined for 12 saves on 14 shots by the Broncs.
With the regular season finished, the Panthers travel to Worland Friday for a state tournament play-in game against Douglas — a team that defeated Powell in a 3-2 heartbreaker earlier in the season. A win extends the season, a loss ends it.
“We told the guys that as of now, there’s only one game to worry about. The team needs to do their best and play their best for this one game,” Dent said. “What can we do better to be better? That will be our focus for the next couple of days.”