Panthers look to sting Hornets at regionals
The Saratoga Panthers Football team traveled to Wind River Friday to take on the Wind River Cougars in Pavilion for the team’s final regular season game of the year.
The Panthers lost the game to the Cougars 24-14, an opposing team score much lower than many have come to expect over the course of the season. Head Coach Kegan Willford said the game was a lot more competitive than some, but the team was still plagued by not “playing a full game.”
The Panthers, he said, got off again to another slow start after Wind River ran the kickoff back for a touchdown. After that initial disappointment, the game was more or less evenly matched he thought, though he conceded the team relied too heavily on defense while the offense struggled to make things happen.
“Two weeks in a row we haven’t played our best football I would definitely have to say, and I think the kids and anyone watching would have to agree with that,” Willford said. “It seemed like offensively we had a case of the drops; we tried to throw the ball a lot more than we normally do and we just didn’t have a lot of success in catching the ball.”
While the offense faltered with the throwing game, the defense helped shut down Wind River’s chances of scoring, keeping the score close for most of the game until a late-game scoring rally by Wind River put the event to bed.
“For most the game it was pretty competitive, it wasn’t until the end of the game when Wind River had that go-ahead score to be up by two scores,” Willford said. “I never felt we were out of the football game.”
As of press time, official statistics were not available, but Willford described the game as one-sided when it came to possession of the ball, stating that Wind River held onto the pigskin far more than the Panthers.
In the end, he said, it came down to the defense shutting down the Cougars’ scoring chances, as the offense was just not connecting.
“It seemed like a lot of the passes were there, we just had a hard time catching the football,” Willford said. “It was a pretty close game most of the time, but when our offense can’t convert and has a harder time moving the football it makes a tougher game.
“You need to give credit to our defense because our offense didn’t convert like we were hoping they would.”
Several Saratoga players did deliver outstanding performances, however. Sam Schneider was responsible for one of the Panthers’ two touchdowns. “He plays hard,” Willford said. “He gets beat up quite a bit and keeps getting back up and going back out. That’s a testament to his work ethic.”
Nate Rimmer was one of Willford’s stars on the defense. Wind River had a sizable group of players on one side of their line, but Rimmer was able to effectively shut them down and curtail their scoring chances.
Wyatt Cox, who before Friday’s game against the Cougars was second in the state on defensive points and the second leading receiver in the state, ran for very nearly 100 yards, Willford said, possibly moving into the number one slot in the state for receptions.
The Panthers will next face the Pine Bluffs Hornets in the first playoff game of the post-season. The game will be a challenge, Willford said, adding the Hornets are undefeated for the season, are defending champions, and they have not hosted a home playoff game since 1949.
“It’s going to be a hostile environment,” Willford said. “They’re not a huge team, but they have a lot of speed and finesse, and they have one of the best quarterbacks we’ll probably see this year.
“He’s a double-threat because he can run and throw, so it’s going to be important to shut him down.”
When the team departs Friday for its first playoff game to take on the Hornets, Willford hopes the team will begin matching its impressive defense by having its offense firing on all cylinders.
“We’re still trying to find that complete football game,” Willford said. “The playoffs would be a good week to get that game.”