After losing two of its first three games, the Powell Middle School eighth grade football team went on a tear to finish out the season, winning five straight to finish 6-2 with a conference …
After losing two of its first three games, the Powell Middle School eighth grade football team went on a tear to finish out the season, winning five straight to finish 6-2 with a conference title.
“We had a heck of a season to end up at 6-2,” said Cubs’ head coach Bryan Bonander. “Our two losses were to Laurel and Sheridan at the beginning of the year. After that, in our next five games, we didn’t give up a touchdown.”
The Cubs opened the season with a 21-6 victory against conference foe Riverton. With only 18 players on the roster, to get a win early against a quality opponent was a major confidence builder.
“Riverton was probably the second-best team in the conference, so to get them out of the way right off the bat was kind of nice,” Bonander said.
After a promising start, the Cubs came back to earth, losing to Laurel, Montana, in a tight contest 28-22, then running into a buzzsaw against a talented Sheridan team, losing 45-0. The Sheridan game was especially costly, as one of the Cubs’ key players, Trey Stenerson, was lost for the season with an injury. Both were teams the Cubs had lost to the previous season, and the Powell middle schoolers were hoping to earn a measure of revenge this time around.
“The Laurel game was a close one, it could have gone either way at the end. We just didn’t have enough to pull it out,” Bonander said. “The Sheridan game, they were definitely the better team.”
Sitting at 1-2, the Cubs were at a crossroads of sorts; coupled with losing a player off a talented but sparse roster, the season could have easily gone off the rails. But with five conference games ahead of them, Bonander and assistant coach Nate Urbach had the team dialed in and believing in themselves.
“... we just kept beating that drum that, ‘Hey, it’s a long season and these two games don’t count towards conference. We just need to learn from them,’” Bonander said. “And I think the boys did that.”
The Cubs rebounded from Sheridan with a 41-0 drubbing of Rocky Mountain. They followed that by beating Cody 25-0, in a game that took a turn for the strange.
“That was a game where they kind of threw in the towel about halfway through the third quarter,” Bonander said. “They actually were going to quit, they didn’t want to play us anymore, which was weird. It was a strange game. We convinced them to play a little longer, because I wanted the B kids I had to play a little bit. So we did play a few more series after that.”
A pair of 28-0 wins over Worland and Lovell followed, setting up a conference title game against Lander. The Cubs continued their winning ways in that contest, claiming the conference crown with a 32-0 win.
“It was a great turnaround for us,” Bonander said. “The kids really played well all season.”
Jhett Schwahn led the Cubs at quarterback, and Bonander said he’s expecting great things from his young leader as he transitions to high school next season.
“Jhett was our team leader throughout the year, on both sides of the ball,” Bonander said. “He made some spectacular plays on offense and defense. He’s just a well-rounded, great player.”
Seston Shoopman anchored the offensive and defensive lines for the Cubs, despite missing a few games due to injury.
“Seston injured his wrist in the Riverton game the first game of the year and was out for three weeks,” Bonander explained. “But he came back and was really instrumental for us on the line. He’s a big, strong kid.”
Brock Johnson, a “slippery, wiry kid,” according to Bonander, played well from the tailback spot,
“Looking at him you wouldn’t think he could do much, but boy, he was spectacular as well,” he said. “Just a great kid, great ball player.”
Other players on the line who made an impact included Aiden Greenwald and Wyatt Blackmore. Case Bradish was a standout at center, making the switch from receiver to center because of low participation numbers. Joe Bucher also rotated in at the center spot.
“Case isn’t a really big kid, but we were so short on kids, we had to move some kids around,” Bonander said. “We moved him there and he did an outstanding job for us. And Joe Bucher did a good job for us as well.”
Tyler Wood was solid at receiver for the Cubs, as was Rayce Degraffenreid.
“Tyler had some great catches for us,” Bonander said. “If I had to give a most improved player, I’d probably give it to him. Rayce was solid at receiver as well.”
As far as offensive strategies go, Bonander said in all his years of coaching middle school football, his plays have typically been 80 percent run and 20 percent pass. This year’s team flipped the script on that equation.
“It was totally flopped; I bet we ran only 20 percent of the time,” he said. “That’s how good a quarterback Jhett Schwahn was. He’s kind of the real deal.”
As this year’s eighth-graders prepare to make the jump to high school ball next season, Bonander said the coaching staff at Powell High School can expect some hard-working kids who just love to play the game. Like last season, the Cubs were able to practice with the PHS varsity at the beginning of the season — something he’d like to continue doing in the future.
“I just think getting some continuity with the high school, letting these kids see that that next step isn’t all that scary is important,” he said. “I think there’s that misconception that the kids at the high school are so much bigger and meaner and stronger. We’re trying to get away from that culture.”
Bonander thanked all the parents, who served as a great support group, as well as assistant coach Urbach, who Bonander says “does a wonderful job.” He also thanked Powell Middle School Activities Director Chanler Buck for helping set everything up.
“It was a fun season,” Bonander said. “It’s a great group of kids, and I think they will be a great asset to the high school next season.”