CHEYENNE – It was a day that will never be forgotten.
Tuesday, Aug. 27. Senior Ethan Asher was driving to Powell High for the first week of classes.
He never made it.
Asher lost control of his 2007 Dodge Ram 1500, and it eventually rolled three times, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. He was taken to Powell Valley Healthcare and then airlifted to Billings Clinic in Billings, Montana, where he underwent emergency heart surgery after he suffered a tear in his aorta.
He was then placed in a medically induced coma for a week in order to reduce swelling in his brain and stabilize his body temperature, according to the Star-Tribune.
The starting quarterback for the Panthers, Asher’s final prep season was over before he ever stepped foot on the field.
“When that happened, it was something that hit our team hard,” second-year Powell coach Aaron Papich told WyoSports. “It’s been incredibly emotional.”
A season with so much promise and hype was now in serious question.
But Asher’s teammates didn’t let his injury crush their spirits. They weren’t about to give up. Not after all the hours they put in in the weight room over the offseason, and during summer drills and fall camp.
The Panthers rallied around each other and formed a brotherhood. They’ve stuck to that bond. Prior to each game, the Panthers’ captains carried Asher’s No. 3 jersey with them to the 50-yard line for the coin toss each Friday night.
“They don’t leave any brother behind,” Papich said. “They’re not leaving him behind. They’re bringing him out there.”
Powell certainly didn’t leave Asher behind.
The Panthers won their season-opener and eventually qualified for the Class 3A state playoffs. They weren’t satisfied with being one of the final eight teams standing. Powell knocked off the top seed in the East conference, Lander, in the first round, then edged No. 2-ranked Cody in the semifinals to reach the 3A title game.
Powell (6-4) faces Star Valley (11-0) for the state title at 3 p.m. today at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie.
“There’s been so much these guys have gone through this season, and really what they’ve really rallied around is the brotherhood,” Papich said.
As the days went by, Asher’s condition steadily improved. He recently regained consciousness, according to the Powell Tribune.
“Ethan was not supposed to leave the scene alive, but God has another plan,” Ethan’s parents, Tiffani and Andy Asher, wrote in a Facebook post, according to the Powell Tribune. “Ethan was not supposed to walk again, but God has another plan. Ethan’s brain trauma was so severe he may not talk again, but God has another plan.”
Asher is expected to be in attendance today.
“Man, they’re playing inspired football right now,” Star Valley coach McKay Young said. “Their teammate got in the accident in August, and you’ve got a team that already was very good, very talented, and now you know they’re playing for something bigger and something better. You can see that in the way they play; they play hard.”
Powell will have a tall task to deal with. Star Valley enters today’s tilt winners of 20 consecutive games. The Braves’ last loss came Sept. 7, 2018, to Sugar-Salem High in Idaho. Their last loss against a Wyoming team was Nov. 3, 2017, in the 3A title game.
Star Valley boasts the second-best offense in 3A (320 yards per game) and has a slew of weapons at the skill positions. Junior quarterback Brant Nelson has thrown a 3A-best 14 touchdowns and has completed 70.3% of his passes, which also leads 3A. Six-foot-3 senior running back R.J. Cazier presents all sorts of problems for the Panthers, particularly with his hefty frame. Cazier averages 6.4 yards per carry and has rushed for 16 touchdowns, which is second-most in 3A this season.
“What stands out is they sustain their blocks, and they are always working on film,” Papich said of the Braves. “I guess as a football coach, you notice when players stop before the whistle’s blown, and they watch the play while it’s happening. Star Valley continually is working through the play, and that’s something that I really notice.”
The Panthers also jump off the screen when studying their game film, Young said.
Young, who is in his fourth season calling the shots for the Braves, pointed toward Powell’s physicality and heavy running attack as a strength.
“They play our brand of football, for sure, and they’re good at it,” the coach said.
Powell junior quarterback Landon Lengfelder averages more than 14 yards per attempt, and he also has rushed a team-best nine touchdowns.
“(He) is dangerous in the play-action game. He can run that (bootleg), and he is super dangerous if he gets the edge,” Young said. “We’ve got our hands full, certainly, trying to stop them.”
As the Panthers take the field today, Asher will be there, supporting his brothers, just as they did for him, every snap. Having done so all season, the Panthers will rally around their quarterback one final time.
“For it all to just come together in Laramie is, I think, going to be a very special moment, because these guys have been holding onto this dream and this goal their entire high school career,” Papich said. “Now seeing it come true and getting a chance to play for a title, you couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”
Tyler Poslosky is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at 307-633-3123 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerPoslosky.