“Practice has been going well this week,” Powell head coach Jim Stringer said of his team’s preparation leading up to the big game. “The kids have been pretty sharp picking up the adjustments we want to make. Their attitudes and mentality …
Powell, Douglas playing for all the marbles
It will all come down to 48 minutes this Friday afternoon as No. 5 Powell locks horns against three-time defending state champion and No. 2 ranked Douglas for the 3A state football title. The game kicks off at 3 p.m. at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie.
The two teams have not met since a dramatic double-overtime encounter in the 2008 semifinals. That win led to a string of three state titles for Douglas — a streak the Panthers will be looking to stop this Friday.
“Practice has been going well this week,” Powell head coach Jim Stringer said of his team’s preparation leading up to the big game. “The kids have been pretty sharp picking up the adjustments we want to make. Their attitudes and mentality have been good. They’re doing a good job of keeping each other pumped up. The energy level has been high.”
Powell spent most of Monday watching game film and going over adjustments in preparation for Friday’s game. Tuesday, the team did a full-speed practice, but scaled the level of contact.
“We don’t want to get the kids too banged up this week,” Stringer said, adding that Wednesday’s practice would be more of a full-contact affair.
Powell departs Thursday morning and will hold an afternoon practice at Laramie High School. Teams are not allowed on the War Memorial Stadium field until game day.
“We’re leaving early enough that we’ll be able to get a full practice in on Thursday,” said Stringer. “It’ll give us a chance to get used to the elevation and to work out at about the same time that we’ll be playing on Friday.”
The Panthers suffered no additional injuries of note in last week’s semifinal hookup against Green River. The Panther’s head coach noted quarterback/defensive back Josh Cragoe had left school early on Tuesday due to illness. Stringer noted Cragoe was back in class on Wednesday and had informed him that he was “feeling much better.” Cragoe is expected to be behind center when the Panthers step onto the UW playing surface.
That’s good news for Powell fans as Cragoe is a key cog in the Panthers’ offensive and defensive machine. The senior accounts for 267.7 all-purpose yards per game, ranking him first in the state. He’s directing a Panther passing attack that ranks second in the state at 163.5 yards per game and also is one of four Panther defenders ranked among the top 25 for defensive points this season, coming in at No. 16 on that list.
Brendon Phister (No. 4), Vince Sleep (No. 6) and Anthony Lujan (tied for No. 24) are the other members of the Powell stop unit to rank among the state 3A leaders. For Sleep, it is his second consecutive year near the top of the charts after leading the state in defensive points as a sophomore.
But no conversation regarding the Panthers’ post-season appearance would be complete without mention of senior Olie Olson. The Panthers’ running back/defensive back was responsible for hauling in Cragoe’s game-winning touchdown pass, picking up the necessary yards after the catch to lift Powell into the title game. He’s also responsible for five interceptions in the post-season alone.
But the Panthers’ defensive focus this week will likely be on the Douglas backfield and specifically on Douglas’ Tanner Miller, who averages a state-best 156.6 rushing yards per game and has accounted for 23 touchdowns for the Bearcats. That’s roughly 45 percent of Douglas’ average offensive output each game.
“They have a great running attack,” Stringer said of Douglas. “The thing about the Miller kid is they like to line him up 8 or 10 yards back and get him the ball deep in the backfield to allow him to find his running lane and hit it at full speed. Nobody’s been able to shut him down completely.”
But, the Panthers’ coach notes, teams have had success in limiting Miller on a play-by-play basis.
“You can stop him at the line of scrimmage and bottle him up, make him change direction,” Stringer said. “He’ll break one or two probably, but if you can limit him, that really limits Douglas. They also have a nice play action package that they base off of his rushing game.”
“We’re excited going in this weekend,” Stringer said. “Last week was an emotional roller coaster, but we’re just really proud of the boys’ ability to focus. There’s a never-say-die attitude in some of those kids and I expect they’ll bring that mindset on the field with them Friday.”
Kickoff in Friday’s game is 3 p.m.