Late touchdown lifts Riverton

Posted 11/2/10

“We did a good job playing defense,” said Panther head coach Jim Stringer. “We just didn't take advantage of the opportunities we had to put points on the board, especially in the first half.”

Coming out in a new-look …

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Late touchdown lifts Riverton


Panthers' season ends with 10-7 loss to WolverinesA stellar defensive effort by the Powell Panthers was spoiled by a late short-field touchdown drive on Friday night as the fourth-ranked Riverton Wolverines bounced fifth-ranked Powell from the 3A football playoffs with a 10-7 quarterfinal victory. The loss ends Powell's season at 5-4 overall.

“We did a good job playing defense,” said Panther head coach Jim Stringer. “We just didn't take advantage of the opportunities we had to put points on the board, especially in the first half.”

Coming out in a new-look wildcat offensive formation that put running back Josh Cragoe behind center, the Panthers had little trouble moving the football. On its second possession of the game, the Panthers moved from their own 20 to inside the Riverton 10 before reverting back to the team's regular-season offense and firing an interception in the end zone on a third-and-8 play to quash the drive. Powell made two more trips into Wolverine territory in the first half. On both occasions, the Panthers were turned away without putting points on the scoreboard.

“Watching Riverton on film, we saw that their defensive ends played what I call a wide-gap technique,” Stringer said, explaining the motivation for the Panthers' offensive change for the playoffs. “We saw they loved to fire up the field and we felt that we could get up and run the ball underneath them, but we had to make the offense quicker by getting the ball to Josh off the snap.”

For the most part, the change performed as expected. Powell averaged better than five yards per rushing attempt on Friday night. Cragoe, the night's featured back, ended with 123 yards on the ground and was responsible for 158 of the Panthers' 214 offensive yards.

Despite the production though, it was Riverton that tallied the only points of the first half. While the Wolverines' first-half offense was a fraction of Powell's, the Riverton side made the most of its chance. The visitors, who had fallen to Powell by a 13-10 count in the first week of the regular season, used a 12-play drive spanning the first and second quarters to set up a 37-yard field goal.

The Wolverines gained 60 yards on the drive. By halftime, the Panthers' defense had recovered half that figure through tackles behind the line of scrimmage, sending Riverton into the locker room with just 30 yards of total offense to show for the first half.

“I thought we'd put more points on the board,” Stringer said. “We had opportunities in the first half that we should have gotten points from, but we didn't take advantage.”

The Panthers did take advantage of their first opportunity in the second half, though. After Riverton had trouble fielding Powell's squib kick to resume play, the Panthers won the ensuing scrum for the football, setting up the offense at the Wolverine 30.

Four plays later, Cragoe took the ball out of the wildcat formation and swept to his right before lofting a touchdown pass to a wide-open Olie Olson for a 15-yard score. Cody Wichman's point-after kick made it 7-3 Powell.

Riverton returned the ensuing kickoff back to the Panther 26, but got nothing out of the opportunity as the Panthers' defense again held tough. A poor snap on what would have been a 22-yard field goal attempt forced Riverton to come away empty.

Powell promptly marched from its own 5 to beyond midfield, only to find itself faced with a fourth-and-inches situation at the Wolverine 46. With sophomore Dewey Schwahn back in kick formation, the Panthers rolled the dice and allowed their punter to try to pick up the remaining yards.

“One of our assistant coaches had noticed their cornerbacks weren't spying into the backfield, so we told Dewey to take a couple steps and if he thought he could get a first down to run with it, if not just do a rugby-style kick,” Stringer said. “He thought he could get there. I thought he was going to get there. Riverton got up quick to cover the edge.”

In the end, the Panthers fell a yard shy of converting the fourth-down attempt and gave up possession near midfield. Powell never fully recovered from the shift in field position.

Riverton moved the ball back into the Panther red zone as the fourth quarter started, only to have junior defensive back Zach Thiel step up and intercept a Wolverines pass. Powell was unable to pick up a first down on its offensive possession though, kicking the ball back to Riverton.

Starting at the Panthers 41, Riverton hammered eight consecutive rushing plays at the heart of Powell's defense, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with just over six minutes remaining.

Powell never really gave itself a chance to answer. A holding penalty on the ensuing drive transformed a second-and-1 situation into a second-and-20. The Panthers eventually threw an interception attempting to convert on fourth-and-9.

Riverton closed out the game by hammering nine more rushing plays at the Panthers to run out the clock.

For the game, Riverton finished with 159 yards of offense, 105 of which came on the team's final three possessions. Vince Sleep led a motivated Panthers' defense with a season-high 34 defensive points as he registered four tackles for loss and took part in 19 tackles overall.

Thiel added a 24-point night with six solo and five assisted tackles to go along with his interception. Cragoe, Colt Nix and Skyler Middleton all finished with more than 20 defensive points as well.

“At the start of the year, we knew we had skill kids, but we had a lot of questions on the offensive and defensive lines,” Stringer said. “We were undersized in every game, but I was really pleased with the progress we made on the lines. I'm excited about working with a lot of those kids again next season.”