October is a scary month. Scary for Broncs’ opponents, that is.
Jackson has outscored all challengers in ‘Rocktober’ by a combined and frightful 95-19. Green River and Evanston both on the receiving end of dual chainsaw massacres.
But don’t expect Powell to follow the script tonight. While both teams wear black-and-orange, this could be a fright night Friday for either as the Broncs will see a much tougher opponent in the Panthers who are fighting for a playoff spot in the 3A.
Powell (5-2, 1-2) comes into tonight’s game with a tentative hold on the 4th and final playoff spot in the 3A West. A loss against Jackson (6-1, 3-0) would put the Panthers at 1-3 in the conference—tied with Evanston—but Powell would control its own destiny, finishing the regular season against the Red Devils at home.
Powell holds the all-time edge in this matchup. The Panthers have won 11, Jackson 6 in their last 17 meetings. But the Broncs have beaten the Panthers the last three in a row, Jackson has never beaten Powell 4 straight times. And when Jackson wins, it’s always close.
“Every year we go into this game feeling the same way, and it seems like it’s a 21-14 every year,” coach David Joyce told Jackson Hole Press. “They’re big, but they don’t run well in space with their big guys. We go into this one thinking we want to throw and run wide, get them into space and make them run. Weather Friday looks favorable to throw a little and do that.”
Powell plays quintessential smashmouth football. No trickery, no gimmicks, no deception. When they line up more guys on the left side of the line, for instance, they are going to run left. Every time.
Out of the ‘ Power I’ or the fullhouse backfield, the Panthers simply put big heavy bodies out in front of Reed Smith and dare you to find the halfback before he’s picked up 6, 8, 10 yards or more.
Fortunately, for the Broncs, no team has been able to do that against Jackson. Not Lane Oesch of the Braves. Not the triple option of the Red Devils.
But the Panthers are not completely one-dimensional. They boast a dynamic young quarterback in sophomore Jett Schwann, who follows a long line of athletic Schwanns in Powell.
Schwann is young and still prone to mistakes, but he is deadly accurate with a quick release and some zip on the ball. Coach Chase Kistler does a good job of protecting his inexperienced QB by keeping him out of obvious passing 3rd-and-long downs with imaginative play-calling. Powell will throw out of play-action on any down, anywhere on the field.
In other words, suck in a safety to plug the run and Schwann will make you pay.
“I hope they try to run at us. I really do. We’re pretty strong up front,” Joyce said. “When they go to more of a spread look, that young quarterback, he’s a good player. He just hasn’t had a lot of reps. And the more he gets, the more dangerous he will become. I’d rather deal with the knowns than the unknowns. What I don’t want to see are the intangibles. [Schwann] running around outside the pocket and making plays. That’s more of an unknown for us. We’ve got to contain him in the passing game, keep him in the pocket, and hopefully get a few sacks along the way.”
Mike is 40
In football, the ‘Mike’ is the middle linebacker. And Powell has a world-class one in Toran Graham (#40). The 6’1” 225-lb senior has been starting since the 10th grade. Graham makes good reads and gets to the ball quickly. Try to run, you better get a hat on Graham or run away from him. Try to pass, he beeline blitzes straight up the gut and could make life miserable for Broncs QB Sadler Smith.
Like LB Nick Talich was to Cody last year, Graham is the X factor for Powell. You simply must neutralize him on every play or he will blow it up.
“We want to get #40 in space, get him out of the box,” Joyce said. “In the box, they’ve got two big defensive tackles—600 pounds of mass in the middle—that kind of cover him up so it’s hard to get to him to block him. If he gets to stay home in his wheelhouse, he’s one of the best players in the state there, but once you get him outside his comfort zone in space, he becomes mortal.”
Special teams, turnovers, penalties
Close games are often decided by something unusual like turnovers or penalties or a miscue on special teams. Jackson might hold the edge here but not by much
Powell has struggled with penalties the past two weeks especially. They need to clean that up coming to Jackson.
Both teams take care of the football fairly well. Jackson’s Sadler Smith can throw the occasional interception when he tries to force a ball into a tight spot. Powell’s Jett Schwann is young and could panic under a pressure pass rush.
The Panther’s hold the edge in special teams. Jackson has had trouble covering kicks, and the Panthers have not one, but two electric kick returners in Sam Whitlock and Zachery Ratcliff.
“They ran one back against Star Valley. We’re definitely going to have to directional kick. We can’t just kick it to them and let them attack us. We’re going to have to try to move them around a little bit just because they are pretty good at what they do back there,” Joyce admitted.
Emotional Senior night?
The Broncs are probably not in much danger of looking ahead to next week’s revenge showdown with defending state champs Cody. There’s enough attention and adrenalin flowing for Senior Night tonight as Jackson sends off some 21 seniors for their final regular season home game.
“I think we’ll play at a high emotional level. But I think it will be a good emotion. The kids don’t want this to be their last home game, and if we don’t win it we are not guaranteed anything,” Joyce. “The focus will be there because these games with Powell are always very physical. Last year a few of our guys looked like they’d been run over by a truck after the game. There is no overlooking Powell. Our kids know this is going to be a heavyweight match.”
Powell Panthers vs. Jackson Broncs at William T. McIntosh Stadium. Senior Night. Seniors will be honored during a special ceremony before the game at 4:45pm. Kickoff at 5pm.