They wanted to prove it was a fluke.
The lone black mark on the Douglas football team’s otherwise stellar season came in a week 3 shutout loss when they made the trek to Park County for a bout with the Panthers of Powell. The defense, which allowed only 20 points in all of the other regular season games combined, gave up 17 in the shutout loss in Powell.
But the team was without two key contributors in that Sept. 17 matchup in seniors Koby Case and Keltan Ewing. Not so on Friday night in Douglas.
With another five weeks to gel as a team, the familiar sounds of sirens and horns from the emergency vehicles that line the Bearcats field — and the return of one of the top rushers in 3A in Ewing — it was a different story in the 3A quarterfinals. The Cats topped the Panthers with three quarters of dominance for a 14-10 victory to keep their bid for their first state championship in 11 years alive.
“The first game, the media kind of hyped that up, that Powell completely controlled the game,” said coach Jay Rhoades. “But anybody who actually watched that game wouldn’t have been surprised by (Friday) night’s outcome.”
Like they have all season, the Cats relied on their defense to provide a spark. A 4th-and-1 stop at the Douglas 40-yard-line turned into a nice drive that saw Ewing break off a 29-yard run and Case snag an errant pass out of the air with one hand on a 3rd-and-10 to set up a 36-yard field goal attempt by Jackson Hughes that sailed wide.
On the next play, senior gadget player Rylan Wehr leapt into the stratosphere over the top of a Powell receiver, ripping the ball from his hands for an interception deep in Panther territory. A pair of incompletions after a holding penalty put the Cats firmly out of field goal range, though, and Douglas had to rely again on their defense to hold the Panthers in check. The Cats run defense stood tall all game long, allowing negative six yards on the ground.
Another penalty on the Cats next drive erased a 57-yard Wehr touchdown, but Ewing showed again why he is one of the most dangerous runners in 3A, ripping off gains of 37 and 8 yards to end the first quarter. Ewing finished off the drive four plays later with a 15-yard hard charge over the goal line to put the Cats up 7. Ewing had a monster game, accounting for 260 of the Cats 415 offensive yards, including 211 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
“He made some big plays when we needed them,” Wehr said. “(He’s) a difference-maker on the team, so I’m glad we have him.”
Penalties stalled the next Powell drive and erased another Ewing touchdown run, but with time ticking down in the second quarter, Hughes found a seam on an option play and made one of the longest 1-yard runs of the season, fighting all the way to edge of the field and breaking the plane of goal line with 52 seconds to play in the half. It would be the last score the Cats would get in the game. With time running out in the half, Powell quarterback Jhett Schwahn weaved in out of the arms of the Cats defensive line and hurled the ball downfield for a 35-yard gain as time ran out, but a finger to his facemask gave the Panthers an untimed down from the Douglas 3-yard-line and the Panthers sent a field goal through the uprights to get on the board with no time on the clock.
Ewing broke off another big run of 24 yards in the third, but Hughes fumbled on a long run of his own a few plays later and gave the ball back to Powell. Bad snaps plagued the Panthers all game long, and a muffed snap stopped what looked like a promising drive.
Faced with a 1st-and-35 after a penalty-riddled opening play on a drive late in the third, the Cats desperately needed some breathing room to at least give Hughes room to punt from outside his own end zone. Douglas turned to Ewing, their workhorse back, who ran almost untouched for 57 yards before getting tripped up to put the pressure on the Panthers. The Cats drove as close as the Powell 5-yard-line, but a crucial goal line stand by the Panthers set up another Hughes field goal that sailed wide of the goal post.
Powell drove the ball down the field in short order, keeping the throws short after Hughes nearly picked off two passes from his safety spot earlier in the game and relied on their receivers to create after the catch. Create they did, and Powell found the end zone to make the score 14-10 in favor of the Cats with a little over 7 minutes left to play. The Panthers had more than 250 air yards in the game, but Rhoades isn’t concerned about the big gains.
“When a team is forced to pass as much as Powell was forced to pass, you’re going to give up some of those yards,” Rhoades said. “If we can give up 255 yards passing and only give up 10 points, that’s kind of worth it… If we can keep them out of the end zone, that’s what matters, not the number of passing yards.”
Hughes connected with Ewing two plays into the following drive, and he ran through half the Powell defenders before finally being catpiled after a gain of 49 yards. Wehr gained 13 on a perfectly executed reverse to set up the Cats in position to ice the game with a touchdown. They turned to Ewing again, but this time the ball squirted out of the senior’s grasp and into the end zone, giving the Panthers a shot on offense with 2:55 left on the clock, no timeouts, and in need of a touchdown to win.
Another penalty on the Cats — a plague all game long — gave Powell the ball on the Douglas 20-yard line. Two plays later, a bad snap put the Panthers back at the Cats’ 32, staring at a 3rd-and-22 with 30 seconds left on the clock.
The Panthers tried to dial up a miracle with some laterals, but it was too far to go against a Cats team hungry for revenge.
Ewing again posted strong game totals but said, “I could not have had the game I had if it were not for my lineman creating holes for me to run through. I did not play in the game against Powell in the regular season, so I just tried to come out and play the best game I could. It feels great to be in the semifinals and get to play another game with this team.”
Keltan Ewing: 27 carries for 211 yards (7.8 yard average), 1 TD
Jackson Hughes: 9-for-19, 151 yards
Rylan Wehr: 10 TKL (4 solo), 1 INT
Carter Archuleta: 12 TKL (2 solo)
Luke Skeen: 9 TKL (1 solo), 2 TFL, 1 PD
Douglas will get one more chance to play in front of their home fans before they make the trek to Laramie.
To get the chance to play in War Memorial Stadium, they’ll have to contain a red-hot Jackson team coming off a 75-27 clobbering of Buffalo. Kickoff in Douglas is at 1 p.m. this Friday.