Powell High School’s freshman football team won five out of their eight games this season.
They beat Worland, Billings Senior, Rocky Mountain, Billings Skyview and Riverton to open the year before losing to Green River, Billings West and Cody to finish 5-3.
It was a grueling schedule for the PHS newcomers.
“That’s a lot of games for freshmen,” said defensive coach Nevin Jacobs. He explained that, in the 10 years he’s been coaching, the freshmen usually only play six — maybe seven — games a year.
Several of the freshmen also had JV playing time (the JV had four games this season) and three freshmen got a little bit of playing time toward the end of the season at the varsity level. Football is the only sport in which freshmen can play all three levels — freshman, junior varsity and varsity.
This group of freshmen was up to the challenge of not only the schedule, but in the challenges that come with playing the game of football.
“They’re a good group of kids. They work hard, they understand football,” said offensive coach Zack Coombs. “I think they came in with great understanding for freshmen.”
Jacobs added, “They understand the game pretty well — better than most freshman teams probably do.”
Both coaches said the most memorable game was against Billings Senior on Sept. 5.
The Panthers came from behind to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win the game, 21-14.
Jacobs said the win was “against a really, really good football team.”
Another highlight of the season was a 35-14 win over Billings Skyview. In Jacobs’ coaching career, it was the first time Powell had won a game against Billings Skyview “and we beat them pretty soundly,” he said.
Against Billings West, the Panthers’ third opponent from Billings, the game was tied 7-7 at halftime. Late in the third quarter Powell took a 13-7 lead, but Billings West scored in the fourth quarter to win 14-13.
Jacobs said it was a really good game. He said Powell has 20-25 players on the sideline, whereas the Billings schools have between 50-60 freshmen.
“So obviously a pretty good group to pick from,” Jacobs said of the Billings schools. “We beat two out of the three of [the Billings schools] and we could have just as easily beat all three of them. That’s pretty good.”
The loss to Billings West came right after a 17-0 loss to Green River the prior week. Jacobs described the Green River team as maybe the best freshman football team the Panthers played against all year.
“That’s not saying that we couldn’t have played with them or won that ball game,” Jacobs added, explaining the Panthers didn’t play that well but never gave up.
Coombs said the thing that hurt the team the most this year was illness and injuries.
During his tenure as a freshman coach at PHS, Jacobs said this group is in the top couple of classes he has had the opportunity to coach, calling them a “talented group of freshmen.”
“They’re not the biggest, or fastest, or strongest, but if you take all the talents they do have and throw it all out there at the same time, they have excellent team speed,” Jacobs said.
Both Jacobs and Coombs described this team as having heart, drive, determination, leadership and chemistry.
“They get along really really well with each other, they have a great chemistry just with each other and not only as football players but as just people,” said Jacobs, adding that everyone was helping each other to get better.
“They enjoy winning as much as they hate losing, which is a good thing,” Jacobs said. “For the most part they are a very coachable bunch.”
Jacobs said the freshmen were very honest, knowing their strengths and weaknesses and were willing to work on the things they needed to.
Coombs agreed, saying that by the end of the season, the team was pretty beat up. When injuries had occurred, he said players were not afraid to try new positions and worked hard for what was best for the team.
With this freshman class, the class above them and classes behind them, “it could be really interesting to see how successful the Powell Panthers are here in a year or two,” Jacobs said.
Coombs said he is also looking forward to the future.
“They’re going to be a lot of fun to watch and they are going to make some noise,” Jacobs said, adding that if the players are willing to put in the offseason work, continue to “stay as in tune with the game, as excited about the game of football as they seem right now,” there is the potential of a state championship title in their future.
“The sky is the limit with these guys,” said Coombs, adding that every member of the team showed improvement this season.