Olson stepped in front of a two-point conversion pass from Douglas’ Luke Andrews with 15 seconds remaining to deny Douglas its fourth consecutive state football title and preserve a 15-14 victory and the Wyoming 3A state championship for …
Olie Olson’s interception seals 3A state title for Panthers
Through two post-season games, Powell senior Olie Olson demonstrated a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Fitting then, that the Panthers’ defensive back would find himself there once again in the waning seconds of the state title game.
Olson stepped in front of a two-point conversion pass from Douglas’ Luke Andrews with 15 seconds remaining to deny Douglas its fourth consecutive state football title and preserve a 15-14 victory and the Wyoming 3A state championship for Powell.
“I felt like if they went to the well one too many times, we’d have someone there,” said Powell football coach Jim Stringer, who watched Douglas pull within one point with what appeared to be the identical play on fourth-and-3 moments earlier. “Olie did a great job in coverage of stepping in front of the receiver and grabbing the ball.”
“On the play before, they slid someone out and we didn’t have anyone on him, and they were able to score the touchdown,” said Olson. “This time, we picked him up. Everyone did a good job in coverage, and he didn’t have anywhere to really throw.”
The pick was Olson’s seventh in three playoff games, although the senior technically won’t receive credit for it since the interception came on a two-point conversion attempt, which is considered a dead ball situation. Still, for the senior who opened the playoffs with a four-interception game and went on to grab the game-winning touchdown pass in the waning seconds of the semifinals, there’s no question as to which moment he’ll cherish the longest.
“This one, for sure,” Olson said of the conversion play. “I might not remember those other plays, but I’ll remember this for life.”
The entire sequence rekindled memories of 2008, the last time Powell and Douglas clashed on the football field. In that semifinal game, the Panthers jumped offsides on an extra-point attempt in double overtime, prompting the Bearcats to instead line up for a two-point conversion and ultimately earn the win.
“That was definitely in the back of my mind,” Stringer said.
The clutch defensive play was one of several key plays provided by the Panthers’ stop unit in the contest. They began almost immediately, with Powell stopping Douglas’ first drive of the game 4 yards short of the end zone after the Bearcats came up short on an attempt to convert a fourth down inside the Panthers’ 5.
Backed up into their own end zone, the Panthers methodically marched the football downfield on a mix of run and pass plays. The five-minute drive ended as Keithen Schwahn tiptoed 8 yards along the Douglas sideline and into the end zone for a Panther touchdown. Cody Wichman’s kick made it 7-0 with 1:14 remaining in the first half.
Perhaps just as important, it served notice that Powell would be able to move the football against a Douglas defense that entered the game as the top-ranked unit in Class 3A. The Bearcats surrendered an average of just 204 yards per game heading into the state title game, but gave up nearly half that total on the Panthers’ opening drive.
“It gave us confidence,” Stringer said of the drive. “It allowed us to settle into the game and know we could move the football.”
Douglas drove into Panther territory twice in the second quarter, only to be turned away by interceptions on both occasions. Cooper Wise leaped high to take away a Douglas pass inside the 10 and returned it to the 18 to negate one drive. Olson notched his sixth interception of the post-season on the Bearcats’ next possession to turn away another Douglas drive inside Powell’s 20.
On both occasions, the Panthers’ offense was unable to match the success it had on its game-opening drive and was forced to punt the ball away.
Douglas finally cracked the endzone late in the first half. Andrews threw a pass that wide receiver Ty Etchemendy was able to out-leap the Panthers’ secondary for an in-the-air catch. The Bearcats tacked on a two-point conversion to grab an 8-7 lead with 1:34 remaining in the first half.
The Panthers drove to near midfield in the waning seconds, but penalties forced the team into the locker room trailing by a point.
The field position battle continued into the second half. Powell marched the third quarter kickoff to midfield before being forced to punt. Douglas countered with a drive to the Panther 37, but also had to punt the ball away. Starting at the 20, Powell gained 19 yards before again calling on Dewey Schwahn to punt the football and the junior delivered a beauty, pinning Douglas at its own 7 after the Bearcats were tackled for no return and flagged for a blocking infraction.
As the Bearcats had done all game, they turned to the legs of senior Tanner Miller to help extract them from deep in their own territory.
Miller, who entered the game having scored 23 touchdowns and producing roughly 45 percent of the Bearcats’ offensive output per game, proved true to form. The senior rushed for 280 yards in the championship game, but was shut out of the end zone as Powell’s redzone defense proved stellar.
“It’s actually a little easier to move and run the ball when you’re in the middle of the field,” Stringer said. “Defensively, there’s things we were able to do once the ball was inside the 20 that we aren’t able to do out at midfield. We did a good job of bowing our necks and making plays when they got us backed up.”
Such was the case in the early fourth quarter. After Miller helped march the Bearcats from their own 7 down to Powell’s 2, Douglas saw itself turned away in the red zone for the third time in the game. Powell answered with a nearly five minute drive that culminated with a 50-yard Josh Cragoe-to-Dewey Schwahn touchdown pass in which the younger Schwahn got nearly two steps behind the Bearcat secondary and needed only to catch the football to race into the endzone unthreatened.
“Once I saw my guy slip, I knew I had him beat,” Schwahn said of the go-ahead score. “Josh threw a great ball on that play. I just had to catch it and run.”
Olson added the two-point conversion run, following a solid block from Garrett Lynch off the right guard, to put Powell ahead 15-7 with 6:32 to play.
That appeared to be entirely too much time after Miller ripped a 22-yard run on Douglas’ first play of the ensuing possession to move the ball near midfield. A personal foul penalty whistled against Powell carried the ball an additional 15 yards toward the end zone.
From there, it took just four rushing plays for Douglas to move inside the Panther 20. Four more plays along the ground took the ball inside the Powell 10, but then things got interesting.
Lynch and Brendon Phister shot in off the left side to tackle Miller for a 2-yard loss. Miller picked the yards back up on his next carry before Jakob Bowers pulled him down at the 3. Lynch and Sleep teamed up to slam Miller to a halt at the line of scrimmage on Douglas’ next play, bringing up a fourth-down situation.
On that play, Andrews rolled to his right, narrowly avoiding a tackle in the backfield, and eventually found a wide-open Braidy Parks to pull Douglas within a point of Powell and set up the drama of the two-point conversion.
After Olson’s interception, there was one remaining bit of drama as Douglas lined up for an onside kick. That ball was angled too far down the field, allowing the Panthers to catch it clean and fall immediately to the ground. After a snap in victory formation, the Panthers rushed the field, giving Class 3A its first new state champion in four seasons.
“We knew it would be a battle,” Stringer said. “Douglas is a good team, and they came in here and did what we expected them to. Our kids stepped up and made some big plays. You can’t even begin to name them all.”
Some of the biggest plays were turned in by the Panthers’ linebacking corps, where both Phister and Sleep turned in some monstrous numbers after spending most of the contest trying to track down Miller. Phister finished with two solo and 15 assisted tackles in the contest. Sleep had five solo stops and was in on 11 assists.
Between the two, they accounted for roughly one-third of the Panthers’ defensive tackles in the game.
“Miller is a great player,” Sleep said after the game. “They do a great job of blocking for him.”
Offensively, Powell was paced by Cragoe. The senior quarterback gained 82 yards along the ground and added a 9-for-15 performance through the air that produced 156 passing yards for the Panthers. As a team, Powell picked up 332 yards in the game as Douglas out-gained Powell 420-332.
The state championship was the seventh in school history for Powell. The 2011 edition of the Panthers will take its place in the school’s trophy case alongside championship performances in 1944, 1957, 1966, 1967, 1987 and 2006. All but nine players on Powell’s roster are eligible to be back in uniform next fall when the team sets about the task of defending its title.