Bring on the Tigers

Panthers face familiar foe in playoff opener

Posted 10/31/19

The Powell High School football team is back in the 3A state playoffs for the first time since 2016, and the team’s opening-round opponent is a familiar one.  

As the No. 4 seed out of …

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Bring on the Tigers

Panthers face familiar foe in playoff opener


The Powell High School football team is back in the 3A state playoffs for the first time since 2016, and the team’s opening-round opponent is a familiar one.  

As the No. 4 seed out of the 3A West, the Panthers travel to Lander to take on the Tigers — the No. 1 seed in the East. Powell handed the Tigers their only loss on the season way back in week two, a 17-7 slugfest that saw the Panthers rally from a 7-0 deficit to score 17 unanswered points. Lander has been perfect since then, and their seeding is well deserved, according to PHS head coach Aaron Papich.

“Lander has put together a really nice season, and I can expect them to be motivated,” he said. “We’re their only loss for the year, so we know they’re going to be coming hard at us. We just have to be ready to step up and play these guys every play for four quarters.”

It’s the first trip to the postseason for Papich as head coach of the Panthers, and he said the team won’t be content with a one-and-done.

“It’s great to be in the playoffs, but as a team, we’re definitely not satisfied,” he said. “They had a goal at the beginning of the year, and it was to go deep in the playoffs. I think they’re starting to realize that goal, so as a coach, anytime I see a group of kids set a goal and take steps in a positive direction to attain it makes me happy.”

For Lander head coach John Scott, the season the Tigers have put together has defied early expectations.

“I think saying we’re pleased with how the season has gone for us is an understatement,” Scott said. “We’re surprised just a little bit, because we weren’t sure of so many things coming into the season. Little by little we gained confidence as we went along, and a lot of that is we were able to start playing some error-free ball and playing with confidence.”

Scott added that the loss to Powell — and his team’s response to it as the season moved forward — helped solidify the foundation for the success that followed.

“We knew there were going to be some games that would be favorable that we could hang in there in, and we knew there would be games that could go either way,” Scott said. “The Powell game did expose a few things, some issues of running the ball and being able to stop the run — what could we do fundamentally without changing a scheme every week ... The kids really took to the regime that we were practicing under, to their credit.”

The Tigers have weapons on both sides of the ball that Powell will have to account for, led by inside linebackers/running backs Jack Sweeney and Eli Mazurie.

“I never talk to them [Sweeney and Mazurie] during the game because they never come off the field,” Scott said. “They’ve been two ironmen-type guys.”

Under center, Ty Massey has also put together a solid season, and prides himself on playing mistake-free football.

“Ty Massey has really matured as a quarterback,” Scott said. “He’s taken such good care of the football and made really solid decisions. He’s really taken ownership of the things that he does, and that’s been big for us.”

Massey’s favorite targets are receivers John Fawson and Justin Bever; Fawson’s consistently been ranked in the top five in the state in receiving this season, and is a talented special teams player as well.

“John Fawson has been such a weapon for us, both catching the ball and punting that allowed us to play field position early on,” Scott said. “I think he’s got seven kicks inside the 20 that are legit.”

The Panthers’ road to the playoffs has been a bumpy one; injuries have hampered the team for most of the season. The players that have filled in for the walking wounded have played well, however, giving their teammates a chance to heal.

“We’re going to have the most players healthy this week than we’ve had all year,” Papich said. “It’s going to be awesome.”

A key component missing from the Panthers’ loss in Jackson last week was quarterback Landon Lengfelder, who was injured a week earlier against Green River. Lengfelder is back this week, and Papich said he expects a solid performance from the junior QB.

“I think Landon Lengfelder is going to do great. He’s really stepped into that leadership role,” Papich said. “He got dinged up a bit against Green River, but I think he’s going to do an awesome job [this week]. We won’t ask him to do anything outside of his ability. We just want him confident and collected. When he plays like that, it just helps everyone do their job.”

Lengfelder’s backup under center, junior Jesse Trotter, will return to his receiver spot this week.

“I think Jesse Trotter is due for a big game against Lander,” Papich said. “He’s a playmaker.”

An element of the Panther offense that was missing the first time these two teams played was running back Brody Karhu. Since returning from an injury that sidelined him for the better part of four games, the senior captain has been a force in the backfield: His 144 yards rushing and two touchdowns last week against Jackson were a season high.

“Having Brody back — all our injured kids, really — gives us momentum,” Papich said. “And momentum is a great thing to have right now. We haven’t felt this deep for a while, and it feels great. This is really where you want to be at late in the year.”

Both coaches expect a hard-fought game Friday, and both teams will need to establish the run early to have success.

“I think both teams have locked in to running the ball at each other, and maybe playing this game in a telephone booth. Let’s not get too cute, and let’s just hammer it,” Scott said. “It will be a cold night, and the conditions won’t be the best, so it’s cover up and play physical football.”

Papich agreed.

“I think we’re in a really good spot heading into playoffs,” the PHS coach said. “Lander’s gotten better, but so have we. We’ve had guys stepping up in all position groups all season, and I think that’s made us stronger.”