After a brutal two-week road swing that saw the Panthers lose to the top two teams in 3A by a combined 60 points, the Powell High School football team battled back into the win column Friday night …
After a brutal two-week road swing that saw the Panthers lose to the top two teams in 3A by a combined 60 points, the Powell High School football team battled back into the win column Friday night with a 26-14 win over Green River.
It was a welcome reprieve for the Panthers (4-3, 2-2 in 3A West), who were able to win their final home game of the season, honor their seniors and secure a spot in the 3A state playoffs in the process. There were bright spots on offense, but Powell’s defense once again ruled the night, coming up with big play after big play to put the team in a position to be successful.
“This is a group, especially the seniors, who put the team ahead of themselves,” said PHS head coach Aaron Papich. “Sometimes it’s not where they want to play, or the role they want, but they continue to do it because it’s team first.”
For the seniors, it was an opportunity to go out as winners on their home field; though one game still remains in the regular season and the playoffs loom on the horizon, it was the last time they would suit up at Panther Stadium.
“It means a lot,” said senior captain Carson Olsen. “It shows a lot of heart from our team, and it shows the passion we have to send the seniors off on a good note.”
Green River (2-5, 1-3 in 3A West) received the opening kickoff and promptly moved the ball into Panther territory, courtesy of a 36-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage. But on first and 10 from the Powell 33-yard line, Olsen jarred the ball loose from a Green River ball carrier and recovered the fumble.
“Our defense has been stepping up all year long,” Papich said. “We have great players, and they play great when they need to. This was a game where our guys needed to be at their best, and I think they were.”
With the Panthers’ offense in business, quarterback Landon Lengfelder hit a wide open Olsen for a 28-yard gain. The Wolves forced PHS into a fourth and 8 from the Green River 38-yard line, but Papich gambled. Forgoing a punt, Lengfelder found Olsen for 15 yards and a fresh set of downs. Runs by Kadden Abraham and Brody Karhu put the Panthers inside the 10 before Lengfelder scored on a keeper from the 7. Hawkin Sweeney hit the extra point, and Powell had a 7-0 lead with eight minutes left in the first quarter.
Green River drove down to the Powell 3-yard line on its next possession before the Panther defense came up big, forcing a turnover on downs. Powell’s drive stalled, and a short punt gave the Wolves good field position at the Panther 31-yard line; Gabe Burdette scored on a 1-yard plunge a few plays later, and with the PAT good, the game was back to even at 7-7.
The Panthers were forced to punt on their next possession, but a nice kick by Olsen pinned the Wolves back at their own 24. That set the stage for another big play by the Powell defense: When Green River quarterback Jachob Fuss rolled right to pass, PHS defensive end Seth Horton hit him from behind and caused a fumble.
“They [Green River] were passing a lot, and I just dipped and ripped like Coach Papich taught us,” Horton said. “I hit the quarterback and Jesse [Trotter] picked it up. They [the coaches] told us literally at the beginning of the game that was going to happen one of these times, and it was awesome.”
Trotter picked up the loose ball in stride and rambled in from 10 yards out for the score. Sweeney’s PAT made it 14-7 Powell with just under seven minutes left in the half.
“It’s all about momentum. It can come down to one play,” Papich said. “We always tell the guys to respond and get ready for the next play, and when we’re the ones with the momentum it’s just an awesome feeling. We were just playing great after that.”
A botched punt — forced by pressure from the Panther defense — soon gave Powell the ball back at the Green River 9-yard line. On first and goal, fullback Toran Graham carried nearly the entire Green River defense down to the 2; Lengfelder scored on a keeper on the next play for his second touchdown. Sweeney’s PAT was no good, and the Panthers went into the half with a 20-7 lead.
“Toran did such a good job, as did our offensive line obviously, of just going down the middle and finding those gaps,” Papich said. “Then Lengfelder went rolling out, hitting Carson Olsen on passes and ... just using his legs. Being a dynamic athlete out there was really awesome, because we kept them accountable on the outside and the inside.”
The Panthers were held scoreless in the third quarter while a big defensive play got the Wolves back in the game. After the Panthers were pinned at their own 9, Green River forced a three-and-out and blocked Olsen’s punt to take over at the 4; Burdette scored to cut Powell’s lead to 20-14.
However, Powell began the fourth quarter with a long drive that chewed six minutes off the clock, highlighted by a fake punt on the Wolves’ 46. Lengfelder scored his third TD a short time later on a 14-yard keeper. Sweeney’s PAT was blocked, but the Panthers led 26-14 with six minutes left; that proved to be the final score, as Powell held on for the win.
“The key tonight was effort,” said Olsen, who finished the game with eight tackles and a fumble recovery for 15 defensive points. “We were just giving 100 percent every play. The guys up front did a great job, blocked to the whistle. We played hard on special teams, made some plays.”
Horton, who led the team with 18 defensive points that included a pair of sacks and a forced fumble, agreed.
“Tonight we went out there, and like Coach [Chase] Kistler said, we had that drive and passion that we had that first couple of weeks but were missing the last two weeks,” he said. “We saw it tonight. That was the main thing — we all wanted to be there, and we all had fun.”
The Panthers finished the game with 243 total yards of offense, 193 on the ground. Karhu led with 69 yards on 15 carries; Graham finished with 67 yards on 14 carries, at times dragging multiple defenders as he fought for extra yards.
“The O-line really did a good job of opening up those holes, but certainly it’s no surprise once Toran [Graham] does have the ball that he’s not going down with just one guy on him,” Papich said. “That’s just all effort after that, and I’m really proud of the effort he displayed.”
Lengfelder ran for 29 yards with three touchdowns, while Abraham rushed 10 times for 21 yards.
“You want to get the pass going, for sure, but it always comes down to what the defense is giving us,” Papich said of his QB’s rushing touchdowns. “If they’re playing him deep and he has the room to run, he has the autonomy to make those types of decisions, and I think he made some good ones. We got some points on the board, so I couldn’t be happier. ”
Lengfelder completed four of 13 passes for 50 yards; three went to Olsen, who finished with all 50 yards.
Green River managed 144 yards through the air — with Dylan Taylor catching six balls for 104 yards — but the Panthers allowed just 32 yards on the ground.
PHS defensive backs Kobe Ostermiller and Riley Bennett had busy nights in the secondary, totaling 16 points and 12 points, respectively.
“We weren’t anticipating them throwing as much as they did, especially with the wind,” Papich said. “Kobe [Ostermiller] did an awesome job of lining up play after play and giving everything he had. He’s really grown so much as a player. He brings attitude and effort to each play.”
Papich also heaped praise on his offensive and defensive lines, who, despite missing a few key players due to injury, continue to step up.
“Guys like Karson Lamb did a great job of stepping in. We were a bit thin due to injuries, so it was a next-man-up mentality,” he said. “Justin Johnson was another guy who doesn’t always get to play, but when his number’s called, he’s ready to go. His effort every week, whether he’s playing or not, is a big part of the success that we’ve had. He had got some good plays in, so I couldn’t be happier for him.”
With a spot in the playoffs secure, the Panthers are on the road to Jackson (5-3, 2-2 in 3A West) on Friday for the regular-season finale. Both teams will be playing for the No. 3 seed in the 3A West.
Friday’s Senior Night celebration for the Powell High School football team was a notable one, not just for those there to be honored, but for the one who wasn’t.
Through the magic of technology, senior quarterback and team captain Ethan Asher — injured in a motor vehicle accident prior to the start of the 2019 season — was able to participate in the festivities. He appeared via a Facebook Live stream on his younger sister Payton’s phone. As the younger Asher and father Andy carried Ethan’s No. 3 jersey down the track, Ethan, now recovering at a hospital in Denver, was able to see everything going on and fans and coaches were able to see him. He even spoke to a couple of coaches, as well as a few teammates.
It was a heartfelt moment — one that won’t be forgotten by those who witnessed it.
“It was a pretty awesome night; Senior Night usually is,” said PHS head coach Aaron Papich. The coach called it “awesome” that Asher got to be with the team via the live video feed.
“He’s working hard down in Colorado, and our team is really proud of him,” Papich said. “We knew we had to work just as hard to honor him; he’s such an inspiration to our program. He continues to lead by example.”