Panthers open season at Worland

Warriors bring speed, experience to field

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After an impressive 29-7 Zero Week win against Riverton, the Powell High School football team is looking to carry that momentum into Friday’s season opener at Worland.

The Warriors posted a 4-5 record last season, including a 6-3 victory over the Panthers at Panther Stadium. Long considered a rivalry game, Friday’s matchup will be the teams’ first meeting in recent memory that didn’t have conference implications, as the Warriors have moved to Class 3A East.

“Worland is a well-coached team,” said Panthers head coach Aaron Papich. “They’re going to be fast and very athletic. That’s something we’re trying to replicate at practice, that speed, so that we can have the best chance on Friday.”

The Panthers totaled over 400 yards of total offense against Riverton, 311 of which came on the ground. With a pair of 100-yard rushing performances from Jacob Harrison and Brody Karhu, Papich said he’s looking to his offensive line to continue opening holes for his backs to get through — though he also expects a tougher defensive front from the Warriors.

“We know again that they’re going to be fast, so a lot of our zone plays on the outside, they’re going to be able to run with us,” the coach said. “So we gotta do a good job of working as a team — working on our double-team blocks, really communicating together. We expect a very good Worland defense, so our practices the rest of the week are going to be real intense, mentally and physically. We want to be prepared come Friday.”

Quarterbacks Ethan Asher and Kaelan Groves split time under center against Riverton, and Papich said he and his staff have yet to make a decision on a full-time starter. Though Asher will start the game Friday against the Warriors, expect Groves to be getting his reps in as well.

“We’re going to let our quarterback situation play out,” Papich said. “We’re happy with how both of them performed last week. Ethan [Asher] will start out Friday, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be named the starter. It will then go to Kaelan [Groves], and from there we’ll see how it plays out.”

After allowing an early first-quarter score against Riverton, the Panthers’ defense dialed in, holding the Wolverines scoreless the remainder of the game. Led by Seth Horton’s seven tackles (four unassisted), and Groves’ five tackles and a blocked punt, Powell’s defense allowed just 19 yards rushing in the second half. Papich said he looks for his defense to continue playing “above the line,” and to duplicate last week’s effort.

“I know there’s going to be some big plays, and I know we’ll have some big plays of our own,” he said. “But what I expect for us is to be looking for the next play. If they [Worland] break off a play, it’s not going to be a bunch of guys looking around, it’s going to be a bunch of guys staring straight ahead, waiting for the next play. There’s 100 snaps in a football game — one 80-yard play? That’s one play. What do the next 99 look like?”

Kickoff with Worland is scheduled for 7 p.m Friday, and Papich said his team is practicing with a lot of confidence after the Zero Week win. But it’s time to set that game aside and focus on the task at hand: beating the Warriors.

“Success is not continuous, so we just have to continue on every day and keep pushing,” he said. “We feel good about that game [against Riverton], but we know Worland’s next, and we need to prepare for that.”

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