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No. 1 Powell, No. 2 Star Valley set to collide

As far as regular-season football goes, it’s hard to imagine a scenario greater than the one that will confront the Panthers this Friday night. Home field. Homecoming. And the last remaining unbeaten 3A teams in the state set to duke it out at Panther Stadium.

“It’s exciting,” Panther head coach Jim Stringer said of this week’s game between No. 1 Powell and No. 2 Star Valley. “We prepare for all our games, but it definitely gets your attention a little more.”

Both teams enter the game with 4-0 records after posting lopsided victories last week.

After a 63-6 throttling of Jackson a week ago, the Panthers held on to the No. 1 ranking in this week’s Wyoprep coaches and media poll. That win wasn’t impressive enough in the eyes of two of the state’s voters, who shifted their allegiance from Powell to Star Valley in this week’s poll.

The Panthers picked up 19 of the 21 first-place votes in the state. The two hold-out votes went to Star Valley, a 47-7 winner against Worland last week.

The rest of the top five didn’t change from last week. Douglas sits in third place, Green River in fourth and Riverton is fifth overall.

Buffalo, Worland and Rawlins each picked up a lone fifth-place vote.

Similar to the buildup to last week’s game, the Panthers will once again face a team fielding one of the state’s top rushing threats. The Braves come to Powell as the only 3A team averaging more than 400 yards per game, including an average of 278 yards along the ground. Star Valley’s Ryan Brough is Class 3A’s leading rusher, averaging 160.5 yards per contest, nearly 35 yards better than the next-best ball carrier.

“They do have a pretty good running attack,” said Stringer. “We want to try and stop that and make them throw the ball a little more than they’re comfortable with.”

Both teams also feature tenacious defenses that have set themselves apart from the rest of the 3A field. The Panthers currently feature the state’s best stop unit, surrendering just 192.5 yards per game to opponents. Star Valley is close behind at No. 2, allowing just 197.8 yards per game. No other team in 3A is holding opponents to less than 250 yards per game.

“They run a 3-4 defense, but they like to walk up the outside linebackers sometimes and bring them really close, so it can almost resemble a 5-2 alignment at times,” Stringer said. “We’ve made some adjustments based on what Star Valley has done over the last couple of weeks. We want to be as fully prepared as possible when we step onto the field this Friday.”

In order to be fully prepared,, the Panthers will have to set aside some of the possible distractions of Homecoming week.

“We’re stressing to the guys to have a good time and enjoy the week, but we want them to focus really well at practice,” Stringer said of the tight rope act the players must balance with all of the extras the week has to offer. “They’ve done a really good job with it early this week.”

Kickoff for the Powell-Star Valley game will be 7 p.m. on Friday.

“I expect it will be a close game,” Stringer said. “I don’t think it will be high scoring where both teams are up in the 30s or someone gets to the 40s. It’ll be a physical game and we’ll need to win the battle in the trenches to come out on top.”