Panther defense feasts on Lander Tiger miscues

Posted 11/1/11

“This is outstanding,” said Panther defensive back Olie Olson, who doubled his season total by picking up four of Powell’s seven interceptions in the game. The performance marked a career-best for Olson, who previously had a three-interception …

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Panther defense feasts on Lander Tiger miscues


Big 45-6 rout sends Powell into semis

The fifth-ranked Powell Panthers picked off seven passing attempts by No. 3 Lander on Friday night as part of a 45-6 quarterfinal rout of the Tigers. The Panthers also blocked a punt, recovered a muffed kickoff attempt and returned a fumble for a touchdown in the game.

“This is outstanding,” said Panther defensive back Olie Olson, who doubled his season total by picking up four of Powell’s seven interceptions in the game. The performance marked a career-best for Olson, who previously had a three-interception game against Riverton in the first week of the 2010 season.

Going into the contest, Olson knew he was in for a busy night in the Panthers’ secondary after drawing the assignment of trying to lock down Lander standout receiver Tanner Simpson. Early on, the Tigers had some success as Simpson made a variety of acrobatic and over the shoulder catches.

“He’s the real deal,” Powell head coach Jim Stringer said. “He’s a premier player. We knew coming in that they’d try and get the ball to him and that was something we had to defend against. Olie did a great job and he was still able to make some great catches.”

Many of those catches came in the early going as Lander converted two Powell fumbles into a pair of first-quarter field goal attempts. The scores helped stake Lander to a 6-0 lead after the first 12 minutes.

After that, Powell began to settle into the contest. The Panthers took their next possession from their own 20 to the Lander 7 before stalling out and settling for a 24-yard field goal. After Olson snared Powell’s first interception of the night on the first play of Lander’s next possession, the Panthers missed right on a 43-yard field goal that would have tied the game.

After holding Lander to a three-and-out on the Tigers’ next possession, the Panthers’ punt return unit, which already had a first quarter forced fumble and recovery to its credit, came up big again as the Panthers stunted off the end to block the punt and hand the ball over to the offense at the Lander 1.

Two plays later, Josh Cragoe rolled to his left and hooked up with junior tight end Tyler Patterson, who plucked the throw off the top of the grass with a diving catch for a touchdown.

“I wasn’t sure I was going to get to it at first,” Patterson said of his score, which put the Panthers in front for the first time in the game. “Josh threw it away from the defense and I was able to go down and get it.”

Things continued to snowball for the Panthers. After the team’s squib kick struck one of Lander’s front-line players, Powell pounced on the ball and sent the offense back onto the field. That possession resulted in a missed 33-yard field goal, but capped a second quarter stretch which Powell ran 22 plays while Lander’s offense was on the field for less than a minute.

The Tigers were able to finally run a few offensive plays late in the half as they drove from their own 20 down to the Powell 32, but a Dewey Schwahn interception was returned to the Powell 45. That gave Powell just enough time to score on a 19-yard Cragoe-to-Schwahn touchdown pass with 28 seconds left in the first half, giving the Panthers a 17-6 halftime lead.

The game remained tight despite some sustained third-quarter drives by Powell. The Panthers ran 11 offensive plays on their first possession of the second half, but came away empty when the team was unable to convert on a fourth-and-5 play at the Lander 26. The team moved into Lander territory on its next offensive series as well, but threw an interception to again come up empty.

That didn’t last long though. Brendon Phister stepped back in coverage to snatch an underthrown pass and raced down to the Lander 16 before getting tackled. Two plays later, Cragoe hit Cory Heny with an 8-yard touchdown toss, extending Powell’s lead to 23-6 with less than a minute to play in the third quarter.

The score also appeared to throw Lander into desperation mode as the host Tigers faced a three score deficit with less than 13 minutes to play. With Lander looking almost exclusively to the air, the Panthers’ secondary kicked things into overdrive.

After a long pass moved Lander to midfield, Zach Thiel stepped in front of a pass and returned it to the Lander 36, setting the stage for a 35-yard Cragoe touchdown pass to Keithen Schwahn.

If that score wasn’t the nail in the coffin, what Schwahn did next certainly was. On Lander’s first play of its ensuing possession, the senior defensive back stripped the football from Lander and raced 36 yards untouched into the end zone for a defensive score and the Panthers’ third touchdown in a three-minute span.

“I just saw him rolling off a tackle and he had the ball out away from his body,” Schwahn said of the strip-and-score sequence. “I just reached in, took it away and kept running.”

Lander made two drives into Panther territory late in the game. Both series were halted prematurely by Olson interceptions on balls thrown to Simpson.

“Tanner’s a great player and he was making some good catches,” Olson said. “I just tried to stay with him and lock on. Josh (Cragoe) and Zach (Thiel) did an excellent job helping out.”

Fittingly, Olson capped the scoring with a 72-yard touchdown run up the middle as the Panthers were simply trying to run out the clock. Olson ran through a trio of arm tackles near the line of scrimmage before breaking free for Powell’s final score with 42 seconds to play.

Cody Wichman was a perfect 6-for-6 on his extra point attempts on the night.

Now, the Panthers get a second shot at Green River, which defeated Powell 38-14 in the final week of the regular season. Powell fell behind 35-0 in the first half before outscoring the Wolves in the second half.

Kickoff in Friday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Preliminary weather forecasts call for the coldest weekend of the year, with kickoff temperatures possibly only in the high teens in Green River and a likelihood of gameday snow in the forecast.