Playing hard to the end

Posted 11/8/11

“He was not going to be denied,” Powell head football coach Jim Stringer said. “He broke a nice tackle getting to the end zone.”

Olson’s game-winning grab came under the most unlikely of circumstances. With the ball just across midfield …

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Playing hard to the end


Olson’s late-game heroics lead Panthers to title game

What easily could have been the most heartbreaking moment of the 2011 football season needed just seconds to transform into its most triumphant. After watching top-ranked Green River score a go-ahead touchdown with 41 seconds to play in Friday night’s 3A semifinal contest, the fifth-ranked Panthers reached back and delivered a knockout haymaker.

“He was not going to be denied,” Powell head football coach Jim Stringer said. “He broke a nice tackle getting to the end zone.”

Olson’s game-winning grab came under the most unlikely of circumstances. With the ball just across midfield and Green River dropping six defensive backs into a prevent coverage scheme, the Wolves somehow lost sight of Olson, running a wheel route up the left sideline. The senior caught the ball in stride and had just one man to beat on his run to the endzone. That collision took place around the 15 yard line, with Olson barely losing stride.

“I just wanted to score,” Olson said. “I was getting in there. He came high and I was able to push him away.”

“He was in the right place on that play. He had good position,” Stringer said. “The other kid went up over him and made a heck of a catch on a ball that was thrown to where only he could get it. It was a good football play.”

There were a lot of good football plays to go around late on Friday. Josh Cragoe’s 26-yard run with less than 4:30 to play put Powell in front 17-14 and give the Panthers their first lead in almost eight full quarters of football against Green River this season.

That score began a celebration on the Panthers’ sideline that was extremely short-lived. Green River’s Skyler Bloom took the ensuing kickoff all the way back to the Powell 15 before finally being hauled down. But it took the Wolves most of the game’s 4:16 remainder to actually get into the end zone.

Powell was flagged on the play, though. At first the infraction was called defensive holding, but later was changed to pass interference to give Green River an automatic first down. The change came despite Stringer’s best effort to argue the call came within five yards of the line of scrimmage, where the Panthers’ defensive backs would have legally been able to engage the Wolves’ receivers.

Set up again at the Powell 4, the Wolves threw incomplete on first down and then were stuffed in the backfield by the interior of the Panthers’ defensive line on second down, setting the stage for Green River’s eventual touchdown pass.

Even then, with 12 seconds remaining, nobody was taking anything for granted considering the Wolves’ previous kickoff return. The Panthers kicked short to keep Bloom from receiving the ball, and Olson won a battle in the air for a deep ball down the Green River sideline on the Wolves’ first play from scrimmage to send the Powell sideline and fan section into pandemonium.

“I’m just really proud of the way the kids came out and played hard throughout the game,” Stringer said afterward. “They easily could have gotten their heads down after Green River took the lead, but they stayed focused and competed until the end. We had some great senior leadership telling guys to keep their heads up. Some teams would have folded in that situation.”

Early on, it appeared as though the Panthers might be in for another long evening. After torching Powell for five first-half touchdowns two weeks ago, Green River needed just 80 seconds to march down field for the first score in Friday’s semifinal.

That was about all that resembled the first encounter between the two programs though. The Panthers defense was able to shut down Green River time and again to force the Wolves to punt. Offensively, the Panthers were able to move the ball to hold their own in a battle of field position.

“We purposely slowed the tempo early in the game and called some low-risk plays to give the kids some confidence and help them settle into the game,” Stringer said. “We fired off the ball, ran hard and had some good blocks. The kids did a great job of executing the game plan we asked them to.”

Powell’s only first-half points came on a Cody Wichman field goal after a Panther drive stalled out inside the Wolves’ 10. Green River added another touchdown late in the first half to carry a 14-3 lead into intermission.

That score remained in place until Keithen Schwahn pulled in a play-action pass and split the Wolves’ secondary for a 35-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Green River missed a pair of field goal attempts, one a 47 yarder, the other from 33 yards out, setting the stage for the late-game drama.

No final stats had been received from the game.

Powell, now 8-2, will face three-time defending state champion Douglas at 3 p.m. this Friday at War Memorial Stadium on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie. The winner of that contest will be crowned the 3A state champion. Douglas carries a 9-1 record into the game, having lost to Green River in the first week of the season.