The Powell High School boys’ soccer team closed out its regular season by beating Lander 3-0 at home on Thursday and battling Riverton to a 1-1 tie on the road on Friday.
The Panthers finished the regular season with an 11-4-1 overall record, 6-3-1 in conference. The team will head to next weekend’s state tournament in Jackson as the No. 2 seed out of the 3A West.
Ending the season with a decisive win against Lander and a tie against Riverton has PHS head coach Dave Gilliatt feeling positive about his team as they prepare for Thursday’s contest against Rawlins in the state opener.
“We had it as a goal to win our final four games, and we were well on our way to doing that,” Gilliatt said. “But that last game at Riverton was a tough game. It was their [Riverton’s] senior night; I think they were pumped.”
In Powell’s final home game of the season — on Thursday against Lander — the Panthers honored their three seniors: Rob Sessions, Steven Shopa and Dylan Lowery. All three got the start, with Rob Sessions and Shopa closing out their final game in Panther Stadium by each scoring a goal in the 3-0 win.
“That was excellent,” Gilliatt said of the play of his seniors. “It was great, it was pretty ideal. The only way to make it better would have been to have Dylan [Lowery] score, but Dylan got some time in and played a good game. He was physical and had good timing and won balls in the air.”
The score at half was 0-0, but just as easily could have been 4-0 in favor of the Panthers, as multiple scoring opportunities came up just short of the mark.
“It can be a cruel game — you can outshoot your opponent, but the ball has to cross that line,” Gilliatt said of the first half’s missed chances. “I think we knew we were threatening, we knew we were knocking on the door. The message was, ‘That’s enough knocking, it’s time to kick the door in.’ We knew a goal would come, and it did. Then two more came behind it.”
The second half was all Powell, as Shopa scored the first goal in the game’s 44th minute.
“Rob [Sessions] sent in a cross and Shopa crashed the box,” Gilliatt said. “It was a nice goal.”
The two teams went back and forth until Ernie Acevedo found the back of the net to make it 2-0 Panthers with just over 14 minutes left in the game. That came on another assist by Sessions.
“Ernie [Acevedo] is one of those players that, even though his stats might not back it up, he provides a lot of activity at center mid,” Gilliatt said. “He’s defensively big, and offensively he’s making important passes every game.”
Sessions would score the final goal of the contest less than a minute later, giving the Panthers the 3-0 win.
“On that goal, Rob [Sessions] just dribbled it down, I think from a pass from Garrett Morris, ... got in behind the defense line and passed it in,” Gilliatt said.
The coach praised his defense — specifically Matthew Hobbs and Morris, who were both instrumental in preserving the shutout. Keeper Ashtyn Brewer also had a solid effort.
“Ashtyn [Brewer] is a very good keeper,” Gilliatt said. “He has some room for improvement, but as a sophomore, he’s a very sound keeper.”
The Panthers hit the road for their final contest of the regular season, traveling to Riverton to take on the Wolverines (6-9-1, 4-5-1 in the 3A West). Powell had beaten Riverton twice earlier this season, though both were hard-fought, one-goal contests. Gilliatt knew his team would have its hands full, especially with starters Sam Bauer, Landon Sessions and Acevedo out with injuries.
“... We had to shift some things around, but I think we still played well,” Gilliatt said.
Morris scored on a corner kick to give Powell a 1-0 lead at the half. The Panthers held Riverton scoreless until the game’s final minute, when the Wolverines snuck one past Brewer to force overtime. Neither team could convert in OT, and the game ended 1-1.
“Credit to Riverton, they’re definitely dangerous and can’t be overlooked -- they have some good players,” he said.
The Panthers managed an astounding 42 shots on goal.
“A good takeaway from having that many shots was maybe making sure we’re a little pickier with our shot selection, try to have higher shot quality,” Gilliatt said. “We’ve played other keepers where we could shoot from distance and score off that, but Riverton has a good keeper.”
As for defensive standouts in the game, Gilliatt singled out Reece Bauer at outside back.
“He was so big defensively,” Gilliatt said of Reece Bauer. “He’s 5’6” and 105 pounds, but he plays much bigger. He’s very intelligent, he’s got good timing and he’s smart about how he defends. And when he needs to play physical, he plays physical.”
Kaleb Brown also played well in his first game at striker, becoming a target man for the wingers and midfielders, holding up the ball and allowing them to catch up.
“Kaleb [Brown] usually plays one one side or the other, but he did a great job at striker,” Gilliatt said.
The Panthers will now prepare for the opening round of the 3A State Tournament on Thursday, facing a familiar foe in Rawlins. The Outlaws beat Powell 3-0 to open last year’s state tournament, though Powell came away with a 2-0 win against them earlier this season.
Sadly, Rawlins will begin the state tournament on a somber note, as team member Cody Scott was killed in a car crash over the weekend; Gilliatt said the Panthers and all of the other teams in the tournament will start each first-round game with a moment of silence to honor Scott’s memory.
“Respect and condolences to Rawlins for their loss,” Gilliatt said. “It’s just a tragic set of circumstances.”