A roller-coaster season for the Powell High School football team came to a close Friday night at Panther Stadium with a loss to No. 3 Jackson. It was the fourth top 5-ranked team the Panthers faced in the last five games.
The Broncs (7-1, 3-1) scored on their very first play from scrimmage and never looked back, scoring 28 points in the first half en route to a 34-13 win. The Panthers (1-7, 0-5) stepped up their play in the second half but were unable to close the gap; the loss gave Powell a 1-7 record for the second consecutive season.
“It wasn’t the result we hoped for, but I was pleased with the guys’ effort,” said PHS head coach Aaron Papich. “Jackson’s a really good team, and I think they’ll be tough to beat in the playoffs.”
The contest got off to an inauspicious start for the Panthers. The Broncs, who came into the game with the state’s leading rusher in Jayden Cox, surprised the defense by taking to the air. Starting the game’s opening drive at their own 31, Jackson quarterback Pearson Evans aired it out on first down, hitting a wide-open Peter Goettler for a 69-yard touchdown. The extra point gave the Broncs a 7-0 lead with less than a minute gone in the game.
“We were really anticipating a run there; Jayden Cox is a very dynamic athlete,” Papich said. “We were really keying on him, and they kind of caught us off guard there with their very first play.”
Big plays continued to haunt the Panthers as the first half progressed. Jackson’s Cox performed as advertised, grinding out 188 yards on 12 carries in the first half, scoring three touchdowns. The first was a 78-yard scamper with just over eight minutes left in the first quarter. Cox followed that with a 29-yard touchdown run at the end of the first quarter, and with the extra points, the Broncs held a 21-0 lead with three quarters to play.
The Panthers finally settled into a rhythm as the first quarter ended and the second began. A nice drive culminated with a 14-yard quarterback sneak by Ethan Asher to get Powell on the board. A bad snap nullified the point-after attempt, and the Panthers trailed 21-6.
“That was a good drive for us, we took a little time off of the clock, and our guys were trusting in what we were trying to do and playing well together,” Papich said. “I was happy with how the guys responded after that first quarter, and I was happy with Ethan’s run and scoring that touchdown.”
With time winding down in the first half, the Broncs once again drove into Panther territory. Powell was unable to find an answer for Cox, who scored his third touchdown on a 10-yard run. With the extra point, Jackson went into the half with a 28-6 lead.
Asher was the leading rusher in the first half for the Panthers, racking up 61 yards and a touchdown. Asher also completed six of nine passes for 43 yards. That included two completions to sophomore receiver Brailey Gann for 13 yards and one to older brother Kanyon Gann for 14 yards.
Jackson outgained Powell 321 yards to 127 yards in the first half.
“We told the guys at the half it was the simple things we needed to keep focusing on,” Papich said. “Other than that first pass play, there was really nothing unexpected that they were doing. They were just playing really tough, but we believed we could match their toughness. We told the guys we’ve been in this position a lot, and we believed they could come out in the second half and give them a game.”
The Panthers came out for the second half with a renewed sense of purpose, and it showed on the field, most notably on defense. Knowing Powell’s penchant for second-half comebacks, Jackson kept their starters in to start the third quarter. But the Broncs were unable to mimic the success of the first half, as the Powell defense put the clamps on the high-powered offense. The two teams traded possessions until the fourth quarter. A couple of Panther drives showed promise, but tapered off before posing a threat.
Powell’s defense was able to shift momentum late in the third, however, as senior defensive back Colton Johannsen stepped in front of an Evans pass, returning it 31 yards for the score. It was the first pick-six of the year for the Panthers. A Hawkin Sweeney extra point made it 28-13, and just like that, Powell was showing signs of life.
“Colton [Johannsen]’s pick-six was awesome. That was a big spark for us,” Papich said. “I think that was a great way to finish off his year.”
Powell’s defense held on Jackson’s ensuing drive, and the Panthers started the fourth quarter with the ball on their own 45. A nice catch by senior tight end Carson Heinen and a hard run by Kaelan Groves put the Panthers in Broncs territory. Powell drove to the Jackson 16, but could get no closer, turning the ball over on downs. It was the closest Powell would get to a score for the remainder of the game.
“It was difficult for us to keep up with them once they built that lead,” Papich said of the Broncs. “But there were a lot of good things that I think our team did. I was encouraged by that effort, and I think our future definitely looks bright.”
Taking over on downs on its own 16, Jackson embarked on a clock-eating drive that covered the length of the field for the game’s final score. A 1-yard touchdown run by Kirby Castagno with just under a minute left gave the Broncs a 34-13 win. Groves added one more defensive highlight to his 2018 resume, blocking the point-after try.
“Jackson had a really good game plan. Hats off to them for executing it,” Papich said. “We’re just excited at how far our guys have come, and we’re really optimistic with everything we have going.”
Powell’s final drive was highlighted by the first (and only) offensive carry of the season for lineman Sawyer Mauthe, who’s been lining up as a fullback the last couple of games in the Panthers’ power I formation. The 6’4”, 315-pound senior finished his high school career with a 5-yard average (taking the ball 5 yards on his lone carry).
“We’re really happy with the players that we have, we had a good group of kids and certainly the young guys look up to our seniors,” Papich said. “Sawyer [Mauthe] has been one of our big leaders, and he really just embodied everything that our program is about. He’s a guy that showed up every day, big smile on his face, and did everything that we asked of him. When we gave him the ball, it was something special we wanted to do for him.”
Powell finished with 298 total yards for the game, compared to 504 for Jackson. Asher finished with 73 yards on 10 for 25 passing and an interception. Asher’s favorite target on the day was Heinen, who finished with three catches for 24 yards. Seniors Kanyon Gann, Groves and Dalton Woodward each finished their high school careers with a catch apiece for 10, 8 and 8 yards, respectively.
Groves led the way on the ground for the Panthers, finishing with 66 yards on 18 carries. Asher followed with 64 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, Powell was led by linebacker Toran Graham, who finished with 23 points. The freshman, starting in place of a banged-up Brody Karhu, recorded 11 tackles, three unassisted, with a quarterback sack.
“Toran Graham started for us at middle linebacker as a freshman, and he did a really good job for us in that game,” Papich said. “He was all over the place for us.”
Sophomore linebacker Adrian Geller recorded 18 points, while Groves finished with 14. Johannsen added 10 to round out the defensive leaders.
In addition to it being the final game of the season for the Panthers, the team also took time before the game to honor its seniors: Trent Dicks, Kanyon Gann, Kaelan Groves, Carson Heinen, Duy Hoang, Colton Johannsen, Sawyer Mauthe, Carter Olsen and Dalton Woodward. Papich said each senior recognized went above and beyond for their teammates in terms of leadership and dedication, and they would be missed.
“It’s really hard, because those guys battled so hard,” he said. “They’ve been together for four years here, and I think they really just symbolize hard work. I thank them for allowing me to coach them, and I appreciate everything they’ve done for the program.”