Still reeling from an accident two weeks ago that left a teammate fighting for his life, running back Kadden Abraham struggled with his emotions as he stared at the scoreboard Friday …
Still reeling from an accident two weeks ago that left a teammate fighting for his life, running back Kadden Abraham struggled with his emotions as he stared at the scoreboard Friday night.
“When we were in the locker room before the game, and then out here on the field, our entire pre-game warm-up was all centered towards Ethan [Asher],” Abraham said, wiping his eyes. “We were all out there playing for him, and I’m just excited we got a win for him.”
The Powell High School football team had just capped a 24-7 opening week upset over visiting Worland, grinding out over 200 yards on the ground and taking advantage of an opportunistic defense that turned the Warriors (0-1) over five times.
But there was no question who the Panthers were thinking of once the game was over.
“Getting this win for Ethan means everything,” said quarterback Landon Lengfelder, who started his first game under center against the Warriors. “We’re all here for him, and he means a lot to us.”
PHS head coach Aaron Papich said the win was indicative of his team’s level of commitment to the game and each other, especially in the wake of Asher’s injury.
“This is awesome, this is incredible,” Papich said after the game. “It shows the perseverance of these guys after all they’ve gone through these last couple of weeks ... They’re playing for Ethan, they’re playing for Powell, they’re playing for their team. It’s been an emotional week, but I, and the other coaches and the community couldn’t be prouder right now.”
Worland moved the ball well on its opening drive, and had a first and 10 on the Panthers’ 15-yard line. Powell’s defense proved up to the task, however, turning the Warriors over on downs.
“We’re really just relying on our depth and playing disciplined football,” Papich said.
But the drive was not without its casualties: Linebacker and team captain Brody Karhu went down with a hip injury and didn’t return; his status for Friday’s game at Lander is day-to-day.
“It looks like it’s just a bad bruise, so we’re going to take it slow, work with the trainers,” Papich said. “We’ll evaluate throughout the week.”
On the ensuing drive, Powell also showed some offensive spark, with Lengfelder hitting Adrian Geller on a 12-yard slant. Abraham followed that with an 11-yard run, though the drive eventually stalled as the first quarter came to an end.
With their first possession of the second quarter, however, the Panthers broke the stalemate. After converting a fourth and 3 on the Warriors’ 26-yard line for a fresh set of downs, Lengfelder hit Brailey Gann on a corner route for a touchdown. Hawkin Sweeney hit the extra point, and Powell led 7-0 with just under nine minutes left in the half.
“He [Gann] has always been a go-to target for me,” Lengfelder said. “I saw him open, and he went and made the play.”
Papich said that Lengfelder, a junior, showed a lot of poise at the quarterback position, staying composed under pressure.
“His maturity is impressive, and that’s what we’re looking at in our quarterback,” Papich said of Lengfelder. “He continued to make plays, and I think his confidence helped in settling down our younger guys. I was very impressed with his performance.”
Worland later marched to the Powell 4-yard line, and the visitors appeared poised to even the score. But Panther linebacker Carson Olsen had other plans, jarring the ball loose from Worland’s Luke Goncalves at the 2 and recovering the fumble.
“Our defense causing a turnover on the goalline was a huge momentum change,” Papich said. “They were knocking on the door, and to be that close and not score gave us a lot of confidence.”
On Worland’s next possession, Powell linebacker Toran Graham wrestled the ball away from a Warrior receiver for an interception with just over a minute to play in the first half. The Panthers went into the locker room with a 7-0 lead.
“Our offensive line was pushing everyone back, and on defense it was just a group effort,” Lengfelder said. “Our line did well and our linebackers were making the right reads.”
Powell’s defense continued its big-play ways to start the second half. On the Warriors’ first possession, Panther safety Reed Smith stepped in front of a Worland receiver to pick the ball off on the Powell 10-yard line to kill yet another promising drive for the Warriors; the two teams would trade punts for the rest of the third quarter.
With Worland driving again to start the fourth quarter, Powell came up with its third interception — and this time it counted: Adrian Geller jumped a receiver’s route and took the ball 30 yards to the house, putting the Panthers up 14-0.
Worland scored on its next possession, halving Powell’s lead to 14-7. But that’s as close as the Warriors would get; a 37-yard field goal by Sweeney and a 22-yard touchdown run by Abraham would put the game out of reach. With one final drive to get something going in the game’s final minute, a sack by defensive lineman Matthew Seckman and a pick by cornerback Jack Pool ended Worland’s night, sending them home with a 24-7 loss.
The Panthers finished with 256 yards of total offense: 223 yards on the ground and 33 through the air.
Lengfelder finished the night with three completions on 11 attempts for 33 yards and a touchdown. Gann caught a pair of passes for 22 yards, including a touchdown; Geller had one catch for 11 yards.
“We were good on both fronts with the run and the pass, I thought,” Abraham said. “We just kept pushing it to them, and we had more in the tank than they did at the end.”
Abraham was the workhorse on the ground for Powell, toting the ball 21 times for 120 yards and a score.
“We know that he [Abraham] is going to be working hard every single down. That’s what we’re going to get out of him,” Papich said. “Whatever the outcome is, he’s a player that you can count on to give his all. It was good to see him step up on Friday. It shows our younger guys that if you put in the work, good things happen.”
Smith, Riley Bennett and and Graham stepped in for an injured Karhu and played well, picking up 50, 27 and 13 yards, respectively.
“Those guys are taking reps every day at practice as if they’re the starters ...,” Papich said of his running back crew. “To see Riley and Reed Smith get in there and step up like that, I was just really impressed. That’s just being a good teammate to Brody.”
Lengfelder scrambled for 12 yards on eight attempts.
Powell’s defense was all about big plays, winning the turnover battle 5-0. The Panthers picked off Worland’s Rudy Sanford four times with four different defenders, and recovered a fumble.
Geller led the Panthers’ defense with 21 points, finishing with five tackles and the interception return for a touchdown. Graham followed with 19 points (eight tackles and a pick), while Olsen rounded out the top three with 15 points (nine tackles and a fumble recovery). Playing hard on both sides of the ball, Abraham finished with 12 points defensively.
“We got after it,” he said. “We really stopped them [Worland] when it mattered in the red zone.”
The Panthers travel to Lander (1-0) Friday to take on the Tigers, 10-7 winners over Green River last week. Powell lost last year’s contest 28-26, when a second-half comeback came up just short.
“We’re expecting a lot of zone reads, a lot of power football from Lander,” Papich said. “We’re going to have to play disciplined football like we do each week, trust the gameplan. I think we’ll be successful if we can play to our potential.”
And, as will be the case with every game this season, the Panthers will be playing for No. 3, win or lose.
“This season is for Ethan,” Abraham said. “We love him.”