Friday night’s contest between the Powell High School football team and third-ranked Evanston was a game of two halves, with the Panthers controlling the action in the first half before coming up short in the second, losing 26-7.
“I was actually really happy with a lot of the things that we did [against Evanston], especially in the first half,” said PHS head coach Aaron Papich. “It was difficult for us to stay with them in the second half, but I’m happy with how our kids started the game. Now we just have to finish.”
The game got off to an inauspicious start for Powell, when the Red Devils’ Kody Smith returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. The extra point failed, and Evanston led 6-0. The teams traded possessions into the second quarter, with the Panthers’ defense doing an outstanding job keeping Evanston’s Tyus Cornia — the state’s leading rusher — in check.
“Sawyer Mauthe did a fabulous job at defensive tackle for us,” Papich said. “He really penetrated through their offensive line, and I think that disrupted a lot of their plays, along with the whole defense just rallying to the ball. It was a real team effort.”
The Panthers put together a nice drive in the second quarter, culminating in a 13-yard touchdown run by Kadden Abraham. Hawkins Sweeney converted the extra point to give Powell a 7-6 lead heading into the half.
“We talk every week about how we respond, and I think we did a nice job of that after the kickoff return,” Papich said. “As the game wore on, it kind of took a toll on the guys, and we tried to be as purposeful as we can with how we’re rotating guys and figuring out a way to keep our guys going through all four quarters.”
Evanston continued to pound away on the Panthers’ defense with Cornia, who finished with 186 yards on 32 carries; it was the first time this season that he’d been held under 200 yards.
The steady dose of run plays eventually opened an opportunity for a long pass and the Red Devils took advantage, as Seth Lloyd hooked up with Smith for a 71-yard touchdown pass in the second half that took the wind out of the Panthers’ sails.
“We thought their [Evanston’s] primary thing was obviously their running back,” Papich said. “But they came out in the second half and hit that 70-yard reception, which really gave them momentum at that point.”
The Panthers were unable to get anything going offensively in the second half, while the Red Devils seemed to find their stride. Cornia scored twice in the second half on runs of 10 and 8 yards, putting the game out of reach.
“Our kids fought hard, but
Evanston is just a really good team,” Papich said. “Our hats off to them, they were better that night.”
The Panthers finished with 275 yards of total offense, behind 142 yards on the ground and 106 through the air.
Quarterback Ethan Asher finished the night with 11 completions on 21 attempts for 106 yards and a pair of interceptions. Kaelan Groves and Kanyon Gann each caught three passes for 44 and 30 yards, respectively, to lead the Panthers.
Groves was also the leading rusher for Powell, grinding out 62 yards on 17 attempts. Asher was second with 48 yards on nine attempts, followed by Brody Karhu with 23 yards on seven attempts. Abraham finished with 9 yards on nine carries and the Panthers’ only score.
“On offense, I really liked how our guys were executing all-around,” Papich said. “There were some things with dropped balls as far as handoffs, something we will be working on this week. We’re not really going to be putting in any new plays at this point; it’s a short season. What we have, we got, and now it’s going to be all about quality and being intentional about what we’re doing. We need to be purposeful in how we approach each play and execute at a high level.”
Abraham led the way for the Panthers on defense with 14 points, followed by Groves with 12 and Carson Olsen with 11.
The Panthers continue conference play Friday against Star Valley (3-1), who was a 31-0 winner over Green River last week. The Braves will travel to Powell with an eye on ruining PHS’s Homecoming Week festivities, and Papich said every game is important from here on out.
“It’s really a five-game season [in conference]. We’ve played our first one, and now we have four more,” he said. “We just have to come out and take what we’ve learned and try to put our kids in the best position to be successful. ... Certainly this is a big event week and a week to enjoy, but come Friday, it’s all business.”