Unlike some quarterfinal pairings taking place around the state this weekend, the Panthers and Tigers certainly don’t suffer from a lack of familiarity as they prepare for Friday night’s encounter. Until this year, the two schools were common …
Powell opens 3A playoffs at Lander
The Wyoming high school football season enters its three-week sprint to the finish line this Friday as the quarterfinal round of the Class 3A playoffs takes place. The No. 5 Powell Panthers travel to No. 3 Lander in their first-round pairing.
Unlike some quarterfinal pairings taking place around the state this weekend, the Panthers and Tigers certainly don’t suffer from a lack of familiarity as they prepare for Friday night’s encounter. Until this year, the two schools were common opponents in the 3A West conference.
“We’re used to seeing them once a year during our regular season,” Stringer said. “We’ve got lots of film to study and they’re a team the kids are familiar with from having met them the last four to five years.”
In the most recent of those matchups, the Panthers scored a 21-7 victory in the final week of the 2010 regular season. In that contest, the Panthers’ secondary played nearly flawlessly in holding Lander to just 6-of-26 passing. Going into their final drive, Lander had completed just two passes for 11 yards before averting a shutout with a late touchdown toss.
“They’ll take several shots down the field,” Stringer said of Lander, which enters the playoffs with the No. 4 offense in 3A, including an average of 138 passing yards per contest. “For the most part though, I think they’ll line up and try to run us over though.”
Attempting to counter that attack will be a Panther defense that features three of the top nine defenders in Class 3A this season.
For the second year, Powell’s stop unit is led by Vince Sleep, who begins the playoffs tied for fourth overall in defensive points per game. Sophomore Brendon Phister is eighth in defensive points with senior Josh Cragoe just one slot back in ninth.
The more interesting matchup could come when the Panthers have the football on offense. Powell enters the weekend with the No. 2 offense in Class 3A, averaging 354 yards per contest. The Panthers feature a passing attack ranked second in 3A with 157 yards per game. It will be paired against a Lander secondary surrendering a 3A-high of 150 passing yards per game.
On the other hand, that Tiger secondary also shares the state lead in takeaways with the Panthers as both defensive units have accounted for 13 interceptions this season.
“They’ve got a 5-3 scheme that they execute well,” said Stringer. “They’ll probably load up the box a bit and force us to throw the football, which is fine. We can throw the ball around pretty well. We just need to give Josh time in the backfield to see the receivers.”
The Panthers could enter the game without the service of senior Cooper Wise. Wise pulled a hamstring during the Green River contest and is questionable for Friday’s quarterfinal.
The Panthers could regain the service of junior Zach Herman this week, however. The offensive and defensive lineman has been out nursing a shoulder the last few weeks, but is expected to be back in the fray this week.
“We ran him a little on Monday night,” Stringer said. “We’ll bounce him around a little during practice mid-week and see how his shoulder holds up and see if he’s ready to go. Hopefully we’ll get him back.”
In other first-round games, Green River hosts Riverton. Cody travels to Douglas and Buffalo makes a long drive west to Star Valley. The winner of the Powell-Lander game will draw the winner of Green River-Riverton in the semifnals.
“From a fan perspective, the amount of parity in 3A this year has been fun,” said Stringer. “There have been six or eight really good teams and the bottom line is that after this weekend, some of those teams will be sitting at home. Hopefully we’re doing things right, putting things together and we’ll be one of the four still going next week.”
Kickoff in Lander will be 6 p.m. on Friday.