The Saratoga Sun -

Panthers pull comeback

Saratoga football starts slow in first quarter, outscores Shoshoni rest of the way for second conference win


A slow start may have plagued the Saratoga Panthers football team yet again during its outing in Fremont County to take on the Shoshoni Wranglers, but that didn’t stop the team from coming back and taking their second conference win.

After finding themselves down 12-0 in the first quarter, the Panthers pulled things together and went on to outscore the Wranglers 32-8 during the rest of the game, defeating Shoshoni 32-20.

With this second conference win, the Panthers have secured a berth in the playoffs, fulfilling one of the team’s goals for the season, but there is still a lot of work left to do for the Panthers, according to head Coach Kegan Willford.

The team will have to focus on curing its first-quarter jitters, Willford said.

“It was just our commonly-occurring first quarter problems,” he said. “We got down 12-0 right off the bat. After a blocked punt of ours they scored a touchdown on and then they had an interception in the first quarter that led to another score, so we got down pretty quick.

“We at least were able to dig out of our hole this time and it showed how the kids still had the confidence after getting down there in the first quarter and coming back to win the game.”

Once the team overcame their slow start, the team’s strong defensive line worked together with a resurgent offense that more closely resembled the offense’s form during last week’s rout of Wyoming Indian.

“Offensively we had a lot of guys that had really good games,” Willford said. “It’s starting to kind of attribute to our depth, we have more weapons every week just kind of show up and appear. “

Coming off last week’s excellent performance against Wyoming Indian, Panther Kyler Miller found himself the object of the Wranglers’ defensive ire. The Shoshoni defense keyed on him hard, making it harder for Miller to repeat last week’s strong performance. Despite that, Miller did run the ball in during the second quarter, putting the Panthers’ first points on the board.

And with their laser-intense focus on shutting down Miller, the Wranglers allowed the Panthers to deploy some of other weapons in its offensive arsenal.

Sam Schneider was one of them. During the course of the game, the Junior was able to turn in an impressive performance with over 100 rushing yards during the game. Schneider delivered a 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and then ran in a successful 2-point conversion.

Schneider rounded out his performance with a 7-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Senior Preston Dew also had over 100 rushing yards during the game, backing his team up by running in a fourth quarter touchdown.

Panther senior Wyatt Cox ran the ball for over 100 yards during the game. In the third quarter, Cox ran in a 70-yard touchdown pass delivered by freshman Teegan Love. The 70-yard touchdown pass was Love’s first career high school passing touchdown.

On defense, the Panthers’ line was as strong as ever, but freshman Kagan Gilbert made an enormous contribution by sacking the Wranglers’ quarterback twice during the game.

With their win Friday in Shoshoni, the Panthers met their goal of earning a slot in the playoffs set to begin Oct. 27.

“Obviously one of our goals was to get back in the playoffs and we’ve done that now. Last year, it took us up the final conference game of the year to make sure we got in,” Willford said. “After our first two conference games we got in, that’s a huge goal.”

But the team has another goal, and that is to host a playoff game in Saratoga. To do that, the team will have to win two more conference games, Willford said.

Willford said he thinks it is an attainable goal for the team as long as they keep focus and work harder at reducing early game jitters and mistakes that have left the team in the position of having to climb out of points hole early in.

Penalties are one of the things contributing to those slow early-game starts. Last week’s outing against Wyoming Indian saw the squad losing points and field position due to penalties, and this week’s game was similar.

“Once again, penalties hurt us really bad, especially in the first quarter,” Willford said. “That’s how we got so far down when Shoshoni blocked that punt against us; we had a bunch of penalties before that time. That’s something we’re going to hit on this week just so we can minimize those mistakes.”

The Panthers will have to focus on reducing those early-game mistakes for its upcoming bout Friday against Cokeville.

The Panthers of Cokeville are undefeated thus far in the season, with a win-loss record of 2-0 in conference and an overall record of 5-0. So far, the Cokeville Panthers have held every team they have faced this season to 6 points or less, and has defeated its opponents by an average of 28.3 points.

“They’re currently the number one team in the state and they’re also probably one of the number one programs in the state as far as 1A or 2A football goes,” Willford said. “We’re looking forward to using this a measuring stick to see where our program’s at up against one of the elite programs in the state of Wyoming.”

This week in practice, Saratoga will focus on reducing penalties and early-game jitters as it prepares to host Cokeville in one of the last three conference games of the season, increasing pressure on the team if it wants to win two more conference games and host a playoff game at home.

Willford says he hopes the team will have a good showing against top-ranked Cokeville at home Friday, saying his hope is to have the stands packed with fans Friday evening. “Hopefully we can get all the fans to come out like they did for homecoming because I think that was a huge help in boosting our kids against Wyoming Indian.”

The Saratoga Panthers game against the Cokeville Panthers is scheduled to be held 5 p.m. Friday at the Saratoga High School field.


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