Zero-week game will be good early test
Two teams with a host of gridiron success in 2011 will collide on the field in Miles City, Mont., this Saturday as high school football season gets started. Miles City advanced to the semifinals of the Montana playoffs while Powell, obviously, was the Wyoming state champion.
“One of the reasons we love having this game to start the year is that Miles City is a quality program and they always give us a good test,” said Panther football coach Jim Stringer. “They’re well coached and physical.”
It was that physical nature that cost the Panthers last season in their encounter with Miles City. After capitalizing on some early turnovers to take a 20-6 lead at the half, Powell was unable to get the football away from Miles City or stop the Montana school’s punishing ground game after intermission.
The Panthers ran just 10 offensive plays the entire second half while Miles City pressed its advantage against an exhausted Powell defensive unit by switching into no-huddle mode for large portions of the third and fourth quarters.
“Three of the offensive linemen from that (Miles City) team were selected for the Montana Shrine Bowl,” said Stringer. “Those guys will obviously be gone, but I expect they’ll have guys ready to plug in to those spots. They’ve got a quarterback who was decent last season. He delivered a good ball. They do a good job of getting ready to play.”
And it doesn’t hurt that, while the game has no bearing in the eyes of the Wyoming High School Activities Association and isn’t counted toward teams’ regular-season records, the contest is an official one in Miles City’s eyes as Montana’s prep football season officially opens this weekend.
“That doesn’t bother me,” Stringer said of the game’s different status to the schools involved. “We’ve always prepared for it as if it was a real game. We go into it expecting to win. We approach it pretty much like any of the other games we’ll play. That’s always how we’ve looked at it.”
That said, Stringer did offer one small caveat by adding “it’s always in the back of your mind, though, that it’s an opportunity to try things out.”
The Panthers will be trying out a handful of new starters on Saturday. While Stringer isn’t tipping his hand, he noted Powell’s starting lineup for this week’s game was established following the team’s intrasquad scrimmage last weekend. That doesn’t mean some of those preseason position battles have been settled, however.
“There can still be changes made before the Riverton game,” said Stringer. “These next couple weeks are still part of the feeling-out process. We don’t ever want any of these new starters, or even the returning guys to think that something is theirs. They need to keep working and giving the effort and making plays to hold onto those spots if they want them.”
Powell will enter the game short a pair of seniors. Middle linebacker Vince Sleep is nursing a finger injury suffered while training in the off-season. Stringer termed the injury as something that should heal and be a non-issue during the Panthers’ season, but for precautionary purposes, Sleep would be held out of the contest.
The Panthers’ other injury has the potential to be more serious. Senior offensive and defensive lineman Zach Herman, who missed a chunk of last season with an injury, suffered a knee injury this past week after taking what Stringer described as “a weird fall.”
“He tweaked the knee, and we’re not sure of the extent of the injury,” Stringer said, adding it appeared that both Herman’s MCL and ACL were affected. “We should know more soon about whether it’s something that will require surgery or if it’s something that can be braced and maybe give him a chance to get out there.”
At a minimum, Stringer indicated Herman is likely shelved for three to four weeks.
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 6 p.m. The contest will take place at the Miles Community College baseball field.
“It’s a unique facility,” said Stringer. “When we played there two years ago, there was a wall right behind one endzone, so it definitely gives them an advantage in the sense that they know where things are on the field.”