LARAMIE – McKay Young knew the storm of emotions his team faced would be fierce.
The Star Valley coach knew Powell would come out with a push.
After senior quarterback Ethan Asher was critically injured in a rollover accident in late August and was lost for the season, the Panthers came together.
They’ve rallied ever since.
They’ve rallied around each other and their community. Each time their “brotherhood” was challenged, the Panthers responded. And prevailed.
Young knew this. His team did, too. And they didn’t flinch.
A fast start helped Star Valley to a 49-13 rout over Powell in the Class 3A state championship game Friday evening at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium. The win marked the second straight 3A title for the Braves, who have now won four of the last five.
“They were just better than us,” Powell coach Aaron Papich said. “They outperformed us on the field. They deserved to win because of how they played.”
The inability of its offense to stay on the field combined with a pass that rolled off the fingers of one of its receivers put Powell in an early bind. A blindside hit that resulted in a turnover early in the second quarter upended the game for the Panthers.
Powell went three-and-out on their opening series and Star Valley answered 11 plays later. After a steady dose of 6-foot-3, 225-pound running back CJ Cazier, who had five carries in the Braves’ opening drive, Star Valley went to the air. Backup quarterback Dean Shaw hit receiver Chase Merrell on a quick bubble screen, and Merrell darted 29 yards into the end zone for a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Perhaps the biggest momentum swing of the game came during Powell’s second drive. Facing third-and-11 from the Star Valley 34-yard line, Panthers quarterback Landon Lengfelder unloaded a pass toward the end zone where only his receiver, Carson Olsen, could come down with it. But the pass brushed the fingertips of Olsen and fell to the ground. The Panthers turned the ball over on downs one play later.
“It’s a game of momentum, and that’s what football’s about,” Papich added. “So, any play, certainly it can happen, but you’ve just got to be ready the next play if it doesn’t go your way. You have to have your head in the game and keep going hard.”
And, much like their first drive, the Braves capitalized.
This time, Shaw, who was in at running back, broke off a 49-yard touchdown run on a sweep off the right side to make it a 14-0 Star Valley lead with 24 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
“Powell’s got a really good football team, a physical football team,” Young said. “The best way to get ahead of that really good ‘Power’ offense that they run is to get ahead by a couple scores, and to be able to do that, it was big for our team.”
Not only was Powell unable to move the ball, the Panthers couldn’t hang on to it and then paid the price after a special teams blunder.
Operating inside his own 30-yard line, Lengfelder was blindsided by Star Valley linebacker Parker Merritt, who stripped the ball free and the Braves recovered at the Panthers’ 17. Shaw then hauled in a 22-yard touchdown pass. A fake point-after attempt turned into a successful two-point try, which widened the gap to 22-0.
Circumstances continued to worsen for the Panthers. Looking to flip fields with a punt deep inside their own territory, Carson Olsen’s punt was blocked by Star Valley sophomore defensive lineman Lucas Chappell, who shot through the line of scrimmage before getting a hand on the kick. The Braves recovered and made it 28-0 minutes later after a David Castillo 1-yard dive.
“Anytime you get a punt that’s blocked and you have a short field to play with,” Papich said, “it just makes it difficult to execute.”
Evidently one receiving touchdown wasn’t enough for Merrell in the first half. Nelson heaved a 49-yard pass to his No. 1 receiver to make it a 35-0 tilt. Merrell finished with a game-high six catches for 85 yards.
“We’ve put so much work in, and we saw the game from Cody and Powell and we were expecting Cody, but we came out and knew that they had something to play for, but so did we,” said Merrell, who also posted three tackles, including two solo stops.
Speaking of defense, the Braves stifled the Panthers all game. Star Valley held Powell to just 155 yards of total offense, including just 98 rushing yards against a unit that averaged 174.5 rushing yards per game entering the contest.
“Coach (Keith) Merritt’s always said we’ve got an elite defense,” Merrell said. “Outside backers, inside backers, (defensive) line, defensive backs, everyone’s put in their own work 24/7 when we’re out there.”
Powell’s defense had all sorts of trouble containing the Braves’ potent offense. Star Valley racked up 451 yards of offense. Take away 14 penalties for 109 yards, and that number would be much higher.
As Young exchanged hugs with his loved ones, he remembered Asher’s presence at the game. The injured Powell player went out to midfield for the pre-game coin toss, and War Memorial Stadium erupted in cheers when his name was announced over the public address system.
It was bigger than football.
“What a reminder of what’s really important, right?” Young said. “It was really difficult when Ethan showed up, got out of the truck and talked to his mom. That’s what matters; family matters, people matter, life matters. This is fun, and I think there’s lessons taught on this field that matter. But Ethan Asher and the Powell community and what they’ve been through, that’s what life’s about. That’s what really matters in all this.”
STAR VALLEY 49, POWELL 13
Powell……….. 0 0 7 6 – 13
Star Valley… 14 21 7 7 – 49
SV: Merrell 23 pass from Shaw (Merrell kick), 7:24.
SV: Shaw 49 run (Merrell kick), 0:24.
SV: Shaw 22 pass from Nelson (Erickson 2 catch from Nelson), 9:28.
SV: Castillo 1 run (Merrell rush no good), 3:53.
SV: Merrell 49 pass from Nelson (Merrell kick), 1:10.
SV: Erickson 77 pass from Nelson (Merrell kick), 8:38.
P: Graham 1 run (Sweeney kick), 4:04.
SV: Cazier 5 run (Merrell kick), 5:01.
P: Trotter 36 pass from Lengfelder (Pool pass failed), 1:26.
First downs 11 19
Total Yards 155 451
Rushes-Yards 38-98 39-230
Passing Yards 57 221
Comp-Att-Int 3-6-0 13-17-0
Punt returns-Yards 1-8 1-46
Kickoff returns-Yards 6-123 3-23
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 2-13 14-109
Time of possession 22:17 25:43
Powell: Karhu 18-81, Graham 7-17, Bennett 2-7, Smith 2-4, Abraham 1-3, Lengfelder 8-(minus-14). Star Valley: Cazier 22-117, Shaw 7-99, Castillo 4-12, Matthews 1-4, VanDeburg 1-3, Oesch 1-2, Nelson 1-(minus-5), TEAM 1-(minus-2).
Powell: Lengfelder 3-6-0 57. Star Valley: Nelson 9-11-0 172, Shaw 3-5-0 46, Jenkins 1-1-0 3.
Powell: Trotter 1-36, Olsen 1-17, Stutzman 1-4. Star Valley: Merrell 6-85, Shaw 4-43, Erickson 2-80, Cazier 1-13.
Player (solo tackles-assisted tackles-total): Geller 8-5-13, Good 3-6-9, Smith 5-2-7, Ostermiller 1-5-6, Olsen 1-5-6, Graham 3-2-5, Bennett 2-1-3, Abraham 1-2-3, Stutzman 1-2-3, Shoopman 1-1-2, Gann 1-1-2, Shramek 0-2-2, Pool 1-0-1, Karhu 0-1-1, Johnson 0-1-1, Raiger 0-1-1, Seckman 0-1-1, Childers 0-1-1, Horton 0-1-1, Lengfelder 0-0-0. Tackles for loss: Geller ½-1, Good ½-1, Smith 1-6, Olsen ½-1, Abraham 1-10, Shramek 1-1, Johnson ½-1. Sacks: Abraham 1-10. Pass breakups: Geller 1, Ostermiller 1, Lengfelder 1.
Player (solo tackles-assisted tackles-total): Jenkins 8-1-9, Castillo 2-7-9, Merritt 4-1-5, H. Erickson 3-2-5, Clark 1-4-5, Merrell 2-1-3, J. Erickson 1-2-3, Larson 1-2-3, Smith 1-1-2, Cazier 1-1-2, Herd 1-0-1, VanDeburg 1-0-1, Green 1-0-1, Nield 1-0-1, McDonald 1-0-1, Andrews 0-1-1, Nelson 0-1-1, Chappell 0-0-0. Tackles for loss: Merrit 3-10, H. Erickson 1-9, Herd 1-10, VanDeburg 1-6, McDonald 1-4. Sacks: Merritt 1-7, H. Erickson 1-9, Herd 1-10. Forced fumbles: Merritt 1. Pass breakups: Erickson 1.