It all comes down to this.
After starting the season 3-3 — including a demoralizing 36-0 loss at Star Valley in week five — the Powell High School football team found the grit and …
It all comes down to this.
After starting the season 3-3 — including a demoralizing 36-0 loss at Star Valley in week five — the Powell High School football team found the grit and temerity to regroup in a big way. A 26-14 win over Green River in week seven solidified the Panthers’ spot in the 3A state playoffs; upset wins against Lander (the No. 1 seed out of the 3A East) and Cody (the No. 2 seed out of the 3A West) has Powell back in the 3A State Championship game for the first time since 2016.
But standing in the Panthers’ way once again will be the giants out of the west. The Braves (11-0, 5-0 in 3A West) are back in the state title game for the fourth time in five seasons, and are determined to defend their crown. Star Valley beat Powell for the championship 28-10 in 2016, and the seniors on that Panther team haven’t forgotten that experience.
“I remember my freshman year, that whole entire trip to state was so much fun,” said team captain Brody Karhu. “I knew at some point when I was an upperclassman, I wanted to give that same experience to the underclassmen. It was awesome to be able to go to state as a freshman, and it was the older guys that got us there. And now, it’s right there. We just gotta go and get it.”
Panther head coach Aaron Papich said his team is going into the contest with a lot more confidence than the earlier meeting.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot of momentum right now, so we’re excited to get the chance to play them again this season,” he said. “Star Valley has the players that can really spread out your defense.”
The Braves had their hands full in the semifinals against Jackson, as an inspired Broncs squad played Star Valley to a draw in the first half 14-14. But the Braves rattled off four straight scores in the second half to advance to the title game 42-21.
“We’re pretty healthy right now, and we’re excited to have the chance to go to Laramie again,” said Star Valley head coach McKay Young. “Hopefully we’ll play well there and see what happens.”
The Braves are led offensively by R.J. Cazier at running back, Chase Merrell is quarterback Brant Nelson’s favorite target at receiver, and Dean Shaw “does a little bit of everything,” Young said.
“The strength of our team starts with the boys up front,” Young said. “Branden McDonald, Parker Merritt, Gabe Nield, Lucas Chappell — those are the guys that make it all work.”
Young said the Braves aren’t putting much stock in the first meeting between the teams; in the playoffs, anything can happen.
“Especially against a team like Powell,” he said. “They have an incredible coaching staff, an awesome resume. They’ve been here before, they know what they’re doing. We’re definitely going to have our hands full.”
Young said it will come down to who controls the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
“It’s a cliché answer, and one that every coach says, but that’s because it’s always true,” he said. “The kids are excited, and we’ve had some fun wins over the course of the past year. But this is always the one that we wanted. The WHSAA does an awesome job of putting this thing together — it’s pretty amazing what they do for these boys at War Memorial. And the seniors are excited for one more ride together.”
Against Cody, the Panthers were once again led by the three-headed monster in the backfield of Kadden Abraham, Brody Karhu and Toran Graham. Papich said he expects quarterback Landon Lengfelder to continue to provide a calm, poised presence under center.
“I know Landon is going to have a great game,” the coach said. “He’ll go out there, have fun and execute.”
The offensive and defensive lines have continued to own the line of scrimmage in the playoffs, and Carson Olsen, Seth Horton, Ryan Good and Adrian Geller are consistently making big plays on defense.
“If we just keep doing the same things we’ve been doing throughout the playoffs, which is just trusting our gameplan and being fundamentally sound, I think it’s going to be a good night for us,” Papich said.
He said the team’s seniors have continued to provide leadership to the guys who haven’t experienced everything that leads up to a state title game.
“Come 3 p.m. on Friday, we’ve got a football game to play,” Papich said. “We couldn’t be happier that we’re going to the state championship game, but our seniors aren’t satisfied. They still have one more game to play.”