Broncs outlast Panthers in thriller, 21-17

The Jackson Broncs (7-1) gutted out a determined win over the Powell Panthers (5-3) Friday in front of a raucous home crowd on hand to send off some 21 seniors on Senior Night at the Willie Mac.

The tense game was marked by several momentum swings and lead changes. Every time Jackson scored, there was Powell with an answer. A 14-14 tie at halftime the result of a shocking 2-minute drill by the Panthers to knot things up after the first 24 minutes of play.

History tells the tale

The Broncs knew this would not be the romp in the park the past two weeks have been. The #4 ranked Panthers are fighting for the final playoff spot with Evanston in the 3A West. Jackson, meanwhile, was playing for homefield advantage to begin the playoffs.

And if history was to be any indicator (with Powell it always seems to be the case) the final score was destined to be close. Jackson beat Powell 21-14 last year, and 21-17 the year before.

Friday’s final? Jackson 21, Powell 17.

Jackson spent a good part of the night relying on its defense to make big stops as the battle of field position seemed to favor the Panthers all game. The Broncs were backed up against the shadow of their own goal posts several times, but it was a midfield turnover on downs that proved the biggest stop of the night.

Running game grounded

For most of the evening, both teams tried to establish the run but it became obvious that controlling the line of scrimmage was going to be no easy trick. As the hog mollies from both squads slugged it out in the trenches, running room was at a premium.

The Panthers tried halfback Reed Smith behind fullback Toran Graham. They tried Graham in front of Smith. Early down play-action was also somewhat successful for quarterback Jhett Schwann.

Still, for the most part, every yard was hard-earned against the Jackson defense.

For the Broncs on offense, running back Brody Hasenack was able to pop one or two but the chunk yardage simply wasn’t there, at least not between the tackles where Graham patrolled that area like a grizzly on an elk kill.

Air Force to the rescue

Sadler Smith put up pedestrian numbers for him, but it was his ability to stretch the field with deep throws that turned the game. Smith finished 10-21 for 180 yards and a TD toss to Colter Dawson.

He also hit Nate Keipert on a 38-yard completion to the 1-yard line that set up a touchdown plunge in the first half and a 32-yard strike to set up another score in the second half. Keipert finished with 5 catches for 98 yards.

Smith also connected on a 35-yarder to Sam Scott.

Jackson trailed 17-14 late in the 3rd quarter before Hasenack scooted into the endzone on a 16-yard sweep to the right. Hasenack outran Graham to turn the corner and bowled over SS Schwann for the go-ahead score, 21-17.

Close shave

As always, turnovers did play a role in a close game but both teams were victimized. A fumble recovery by Jackson led to the Broncs’ first score. Minutes later, a tipped Smith pass over the middle was intercepted by the Panthers. That led to their first touchdown.

So, where was the difference in two evenly-matched teams? Smith’s arm and legs, and an unlikely source: Alexi DiDonato. Twice, DiDonato crept up from his strong safety position to make big plays in the Panther backfield.

Late in the game, Joyce gambled his counterpart on the Powell sideline Chase Kistler would not dare throw with a sophomore quarterback in pressure situations. Time and again, the Broncs packed 8, 9, even 10 players in the box to stop the Panthers’ running game…and it worked.

The game’s outcome eventually hung in the balance on a Powell 4th-and-1 at their own 48-yard line with 2:37 left to play. They had no choice but to go for it. Everyone in the 83002 zip code knew Graham would be getting the ball.

When he did, Matt Carney penetrated to disrupt the play, Clancy Meagher and Ryan Ransom wrapped up the big fullback, and Powell’s night was over.

Next up

The Broncs-Broncs showdown with Cody next Friday to close out the regular season has a passel of subplots.

Jackson watched its season end in Park County last fall as the Teton County Broncs lost the state title game there 34-13. So, there is some revenge factor. The road to a state title this year likely goes through Cody again in 2021, so, sooner or later, Jackson’s Broncs will have to prove they can beat Cody’s Broncs.

No better time to start than Friday, October 22 at 5pm on KZ95.3 FM and KZ95.LIVE.

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