A Sam Bauer goal on a Rob Sessions crossing pass in the game’s final minutes was all the scoring the Powell High School boys’ soccer team needed to beat Cody on Saturday.
The 1-0 win was just what the Panthers needed to get the season back on track, Bauer said.
“The win was a big morale boost for us after the loss to Worland,” Bauer said. “We are looking forward to finishing the regular season strong.”
The victory over Cody put the Panthers’ record at 8-3 overall on the season, 3-2 in 3A West Conference play. It also was a measure of revenge for a close 2-1 loss to the Broncs at Panther Stadium earlier this month
“We knew it would be a tough game going into it,” said PHS head coach Dave Gilliatt. “I think Cody’s greatest strength is their back line, and they put up a good defensive block. I knew we would need to have good passes and have the right passes in the final attacking third.”
Defense was the word of the day for both sides, as neither could create scoring opportunities with consistency in the first half. The Panthers did a nice job of defending Cody’s long balls, while improving their passing in the midfield. After battling to a 0-0 stalemate in the game’s first 40 minutes, Powell began to create more opportunities as the second half progressed.
“A lot of credit goes to the back line and the midfield, because they helped keep pressure off of us while allowing us to keep pressuring them [Cody],” Gilliatt said.
Panther center back Matthew Hobbs was unavailable due to a previous commitment, forcing Gilliatt to move a few players around. Needing someone with speed who could win balls in the air and get involved in the offensive attack, the first-year coach moved Cameron Wentz from wing to center back, with positive results.
“If I had to say one thing that made the difference in the game, I think that was it,” Gilliatt said of the move. “The back line provided good support, passed well, passed out of pressure to get us back on the attack.”
Wentz’s teammate Landon Sessions agreed with Gilliatt’s assessment.
“It worked out really well, Cameron Wentz really stepped up,” he said. “He’d never played center back before, and he played really well.”
Despite increased attacks by the Panthers’ forwards, Cody’s defense proved up to the challenge. As the game entered its 74th minute, it appeared overtime might be on the horizon.
“They [Cody] were really hard to break down defensively,” Gilliatt said. “For us, we had some really good shots; someone might think watching it, ‘Why is the score only 1-0?’ Credit to their defense, they force you to take shots that aren’t always the ones you want to take. To get in behind their back line to get a shot was a challenge.”
After several close calls, the Panthers finally broke the tie with just under seven minutes remaining. Bauer — who just missed converting a header off a corner kick minutes before — found himself the recipient of a nice crossing pass from Sessions to score the game winner.
“I knew we were knocking on the door at that point in the game, and I knew the goal would come if we kept it up,” Gilliatt said. “Rob [Sessions] delivered a good cross, Sam [Bauer] was in the right place at the right time and finished it. I think Sam may have overrun it a little bit; he kind of had to dig it out of his feet so he could shoot it, which can be nerve-wracking when you’re on the six right in front of the goal. Sam kept his head and converted, so good on him. To see both of them link up to get that goal was a good feeling.”
Things got a bit chippy between the two teams following the goal, with two yellow cards and a red card handed out in the game’s final minutes. Gilliatt was impressed for the most part with how his team responded as tempers began to flare.
“I’m good with a good, physical game,” Gilliatt said. “That’s the game of soccer. But emotions can get the better of you at times, and the boys need to be wary of that. I thought they handled it well.”
Gilliatt also praised the play of Landon Sessions, who was named the defensive standout of the game, and left back Keaton Rowton.
“Landon [Sessions] stepped up huge. He just played with more authority and confidence,” Gilliatt said. “I felt he was twice the player that he was when he started the season. He was very confident, very active. He ran through headers as opposed to waiting for them to come to him. He provided a solid foundation and direction for a less-experienced back line.”
Up next for the Panthers is a rematch with Worland today (Tuesday), at 6:30 p.m., the only undefeated team in 3A and a 3-0 winner over Powell last week. Working in the Panthers’ favor is the momentum of the important rivalry win over Cody, coupled with home field.
“I think it’s very hard to beat the same opponent three times in a row,” Gilliatt said. “I think there’s some pressure on them to keep their No. 1 spot. What I’m going to emphasize the most is just play our game. If the boys all play well, they all do their jobs, then let the chips fall. Do I think we can win? Absolutely. We’re within reach of beating them, and I’m happy to host them.”