Friday’s 26-14 win against Green River proved to be the biggest win of the season for the Powell High School football team, which clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2016. …
Friday’s 26-14 win against Green River proved to be the biggest win of the season for the Powell High School football team, which clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2016. That season, Powell shook off an 0-2 start to advance all the way to the 3A state title game.
This year’s seniors were freshmen during that 2016 playoff run, and the Panthers would like to get back to the championship this year.
“This group of seniors has gone through a lot and been through a lot,” said junior defensive end Seth Horton. “When they were freshmen, they went to the state championship, and I would love to see them do it again — I’d love to be a part of that.”
But first things first. The Panthers travel to Jackson Friday for the regular-season finale against the Broncs (5-3, 2-2 in 3A West), in a game that will determine the No. 3 seed in the 3A West. Jackson is currently ranked No. 3 in the state and throttled Evanston 62-13 last week; Powell held on to the No. 5 spot with the win against Green River.
“We’ve got work to do on Friday,” said PHS head coach Aaron Papich. “Jackson is a very good team — everyone has to do their job and play their technique. If we can do that, then I think we have a good shot against them.”
The Broncs finished 10-2 in 2018, advancing all the way to the 3A semifinals before losing in dramatic fashion to Torrington. Jackson is 5-3, and JHS head coach David Joyce said the season has had its challenges.
“It’s been up-and-down; we’ve been pretty inconsistent from week to week,” he said. “We have a lot of young guys out there that we’re trying to get ready for the playoffs. When you’re doing that, a lot of times you can have inconsistencies, and that’s been the way of our season.”
One constant for the Broncs has been the play of senior tailback Jeydon Cox, who leads the state in rushing with 1,242 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“Jeydon Cox is a very good running back, and we have to keep him corralled in,” Papich said.
Cox rushed for 2,257 yards last season, and could become the state’s first back-to-back 2,000 yard rusher, depending on how the rest of the season plays out.
“Jeydon’s pretty dynamic, and as a three-year starter, he’s pretty savvy,” Joyce said. “He’s one of the few backs that doesn’t really lose a lot of speed when he changes direction. That’s been the key to his success. If he holds pace and we win a few more games, he could hit 2,000 yards again.”
Should defenses key too heavily on Cox, Jackson has other weapons as well, including the second-ranked quarterback in 3A in Sadler Smith. Smith has thrown for over 1,000 yards this season with nine touchdowns; wideout Peter Goettler, also ranked second in 3A, has been on the receiving end of six of those TD passes. Goettler and fellow receiver Nate Keipert have been Smith’s go-to targets.
“Smith distributes the ball really well,” Joyce said. “Goettler catches a lot of balls, and Nate Keipert is only a sophomore, a 6’3” receiver that can really stretch the field. He’s probably our fastest player, a vertical threat at any moment. Those three really push the field vertically.”
Defensively, Joyce says the Broncs are playing well against the run, led by linebackers Colton Dawson and AJ McCool.
“Those two [Dawson and McCool] can go sideline to sideline, so it’s been tough sledding running the ball against us,” Joyce said. “On the back end, we play a lot of man coverage, because when you’re going to pack the box, it forces us into it.”
Joyce expects a hard-fought contest with the Panthers.
“They like to run the ball, which is good for us, because we like to stop the run,” he said, adding, “Powell does a good job of not beating themselves — they play sound defense, and don’t really get themselves out of position. We’re expecting them to stay status quo, not try to get fancy, and just try to run the ball down our throats. I don’t think they’ll beat themselves — we’re going to have to go out and win the football game.”
For the Panthers, their defensive unit has made big plays when it’s counted this season. Through six games, Powell was third in the state in takeaways, trailing only Star Valley and Cody. Against Jackson, Papich said his defense will need to be ready for anything.
“We always play the run first, that’s our first key,” he explained. “But as soon as our key shows pass, we definitely need to play our responsibility to that. They [Jackson] do have a lot of weapons, they can really spread out the field. You just have to do what you’ve been coached to do and trust in the system we have. It’s going to come down to a team effort.”
On the offensive side of things, Papich said fans can expect the team to do what it does best: grind-it-out, hard-nose football. That begins with runners like Kadden Abraham, Brody Karhu and Toran Graham in the backfield, and receivers like Jesse Trotter, Garrett Stutzman and Brailey Gann in the open field. Carson Olsen, a leader on defense, has also emerged as a favorite target for quarterback Landon Lengfelder in recent weeks.
“We’re not going to try and reinvent the wheel. We’re going to stick to what we do really well,” Papich said. “We want everyone on our team to know exactly what their job is. Come game time, all they have to control is how hard they go. We don’t want them thinking too hard out there, we just want them playing.”
Papich said aside from the usual suspects, he’d like to see seniors Matt Seckman and Bryce Johnson make an impact this game, especially on the defensive line. The Panthers held Green River to just 32 yards on the ground last Friday, and he’d like to see that same effort against Jackson.
“We need Matt [Seckman] to be solid against Jackson on both sides of the ball,” Papich said. “Bryce [Johnson] does a good job on our line, and if he can continue to battle in there, that’s going to work out well for us. He’s one of those workers in practice, who’s out on the field the whole time, whether it’s with the first team defense or running the scout team on offense.”
For his part, Johnson said the defensive line has been playing great up front, and the linebackers are filling holes; despite dealing with a few nagging injuries to different players, the group has been dialed in. As for the key to beating Jackson, Johnson said it comes down to more of the same.
“I think it just comes down to playing like we did last Friday,” he said. “If we play like that again, I think we have a good chance at stopping them.”