Olson throws TD, pick in debut start
Powell High School’s football season started with the same result as 2014, but without a shock to the program’s system, and with more reason for optimism.
The Panthers fell at home to the Custer County Cowboys 28-23 on Friday night in a game they led 10-6 at halftime, but the promise of a passionate and youthful core overshadowed the letdown of a narrow loss.
Head coach Chanler Buck and the Panthers were aiming for the win, but the result was ultimately secondary to execution in a live-game setting and the continued evaluation of Powell’s roster.
Buck said he is pleased with the progression of his team, which is young and will have to rely on precise execution and high energy to find success in 2015.
“The talent level was what we expected, but because everyone was playing with passion, they don’t take a play off,” Buck said. “They might end up beating some teams that they’re not quote-unquote ‘supposed to beat.’”
Buck said a couple of untimely defensive errors was the difference in the game, which does not count toward Powell’s regular-season record.
“The only thing that allowed that game to slip away was tackling, and we had a couple coverage breaks,” Buck said. “That was it. Simple mistakes that we can fix.”
The Panthers gave up three passing plays of 20 yards or more, including a 40-yard touchdown that put the Cowboys up for good in the third quarter.
Junior tailback T.J. Abraham scored his second rushing touchdown of the game — and third overall — in the fourth quarter to bring the Panthers within one score, but the comeback bid ended there.
Abraham finished with 144 rushing yards on 19 carries and another 51 receiving on three catches, including a 27-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Buck credited Powell’s offensive line with creating room for the running game, which totaled 243 yards.
“I was impressed with our O-line. You look at some of those kids, they’re up their starting, weighing a buck-60,” Buck said. “If a kid has the tenacity and the technique and the will to execute, we can handle anybody.”
Junior quarterback Mason Olson struggled through growing pains in his first start and was unable to lead the Panthers on a fourth-quarter comeback.
“His first start as a QB, you’re going to see those things that typically go with that,” Buck said. “He didn’t throw the ball as well as we’d like him to, but he was throwing into some pretty good coverage.”
Olson was 10 for 25 for 101 yards, a TD pass to Abraham and an interception.
The pick came on Olson’s final pass attempt of the third quarter, and started a 2-for-8 stretch that gained just 4 net yards in the final quarter.
Despite the rough final quarter, Olson — who was sacked four times — kept his poise and drew praise from Buck.
“The young man developed a tremendous amount of confidence in summer camp in Idaho,” Buck said. “He didn’t have a series where he allowed his frustration to get in the way. The kids trust him. He’s got great ability.”
Olson added 27 yards on the ground on seven carries.
Zach Easum ran for 57 yards on seven carries and caught four balls for 40 yards.
The Panthers ran what Buck called a “pretty vanilla” offense in their first game.
“I told the kids that going in, as fancy as it gets is probably a counter,” Buck said. “We’re staying very, very basic. You don’t need to get fancy in week zero. You want to lay your foundation down and correct the things you need to take care of, then you game plan from there.”
It was the second straight week zero loss for the Panthers, who dropped last season’s game — and their first in two seasons — to Custer County 43-7.
If Friday’s five-point loss didn’t prove that the Panthers regained their championship form, it at least showed the potential of a team that expects to compete in 2015.
“We want to be at a certain level and a certain caliber and execute certain things along a timeline,” Buck said. “I’m happy where we’re at, there’s certainly a handful of things that we need to sharpen up.”
Finding his team’s cracks before the season even starts was a top priority for Buck, who is in his second season at the helm of the Panthers. Powell has a week of practice before hosting Douglas for the team’s true season-opener, and a rematch of the 2013 and 2011 Class 3A state title games.
“That’s why the NFL has preseason, college’s big schools have those mismatch games with the smaller 1-AA schools,” Buck said. “They look to sharpen up.”
Some of the flaws Buck identified won’t be corrected with practice, but with time.
“We’re still a very green team, which is expected,” Buck said.
The chance to play against the Cowboys, without the consequence of a blemished record, afforded Buck to play some of the younger Panthers while he tested his team’s depth.
“We gave some younger kids some opportunities — only if we trust them,” Buck said. “They had to work for it. It’s nice to have a kid as young as a sophomore jump in there for a senior for a couple plays, or even a series.
“If you don’t miss a beat, you have a very healthy team.”
The heavier second-half substitutions may have contributed to Custer County’s comeback, but was necessary to maximize Powell’s roster in the future.
“You’ve got to build depth because you can’t go through a journey of eight to 10 games if you only have 11 guys,” Buck said. “I probably didn’t do that (substitute) as much I’d like to, but that was certainly a goal for us.”
With the game still undecided late in the fourth quarter, Buck opted to shoot for the win and wasn’t able to distribute as much playing time to younger players as he had originally planned.
“When it got down to the wire at the end, if it had been a two-score game, more kids would have seen playing time,” Buck said. “But I wanted to keep the kids in that we trust.”
Over time, more kids will gain that trust and Powell will carry the kind of depth Buck envisions for a successful program.
Jeron Smith opened the scoring for Powell with a 30-yard field goal in the first quarter. He later missed from 32 yards.
A 1-yard rushing touchdown gave Custer County an early 6-3 lead, but Powell’s Max Gallagher blocked the extra point attempt.
Abraham’s 14-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter gave the Panthers a 10-6 lead heading into the half.