There are 18 seniors who will never play football for Cody High School again. The Broncs lost a heartbreaker on Friday night, falling 20-13 to rival Powell in the 3A state semifinals at Spike Vannoy Field.
After falling behind by 13 points in the second quarter the No. 2-seed Broncs (8-2) could not come back, bringing an end to their season.
“I give props to Powell, they outplayed us,” Paul Lovera said. “They just came out with honestly, more enthusiasm– any given Friday night.”
Lovera was one of three seniors whose chance to playoffs was a blessing in itself.
Lovera, Hayden Bronnenberg and Charlie Beaudrie were all faced with the possibility of missing the rest of the season when each went down with an injury during week three. But all three came back thanks to patience and physical therapy.
“I’m just fortunate I got two extra games,” Lovera said. “What kept me from not going crazy was just rehab.”
A Beaudrie touchdown offered some consolation for the running back after he missed most of the year due to an injury and a two-game suspension. The two-time all-state player said it was a trying year but was just glad to see action in the last two games of the season.
“Sitting out for six weeks really sucks but coming out for a minute, one play, two plays, it feels really good,” he said.
No. 4 Powell (6-4) will play No. 1 Star Valley in the 3A championship next Friday in Laramie.
The Panthers shut down Cody’s run game and broke through the line early and often, forcing quarterback Hunter Hays out of the pocket to make many scrambling throws. For a run-first team, this was a bad scenario.
“We’re a running team and we’ve got to establish our run,” coach Matt McFadden said. “If we have to drop it back and throw the ball that many times, that’s just not who we are.”
Hunter Hays was 10-for-25 on the night, throwing for 135 yards. Tristan Blatt led Cody with 103 receiving yards and one touchdown.
On the ground, the Broncs were limited to 54 rushing yards.
The Panthers came out strong, scoring on their first drive at 3:32 in the first when quarterback Landon Lengfelder snuck in a 12-yard end-around play. The long drive wasted 8:28 of game clock.
Cody responded at 11:13 in the second when Tristan Blatt pulled in a 50-yard pass reception. After Hays dropped back, he found Blatt unguarded with the deep bomb thrown across the center of the field.
But as soon as Cody seemed to be gaining momentum Powell killed it when Brody Karhu rushed 49 yards for a TD just 2:02 later.
Things only got worse for the Broncs from there.
After another failed Cody drive late in the second, the Broncs punt was blocked, setting up Powell at the 22. Shortly after, Lengfelder ran in a 10-yard fake handoff sneak to take its biggest lead of the night. It was 20-7 after the Panthers missed the PAT with 1:01 left in the half.
Cody went into the half with only eight rushing yards.
“The (Powell) defensive line was slanting a lot and that was really hurting our run,” Beaudrie said. “Their linebackers filled (holes) like crazy.”
But the Broncs were finally able to find some momentum at 5:34 in the third when Duncan Radakovich recovered a Panther fumble at the Powell 33.
“We were motivated and knew it was our last 24 minutes on our home field,” Bronnenberg said.
Beaudrie capped off the drive when he brought in an 6-yard TD reception that he snuck in through the left corner of the end zone.
After Jackson Gail missed the PAT it was 20-13 with 3:24 left in the third.
The Broncs defense tightened up at this point, limiting Powell to mostly fourth-and-outs. But it was to no avail as the offense had trouble finding momentum.
With 3:28 remaining, a Hays pass fell to the ground on fourth-and-7, giving Powell the ball back.
But thanks to the Broncs defense forcing another stop and excellent use of time outs, Cody got the ball back at their 20-yard line with still one more chance at 1:58.
A 29-yard Blatt reception gave the Broncs hope, bringing Cody near midfield. But two plays later the Panthers broke through the line, sacking Hays for a 7-yard loss.
“Their o-lines and d-lines really came to play,” McFadden said. “They played very physical.”
Staring at fourth-and-17 with the season on the line, Hays threw to Devon Brown, who although tackled immediately, pitched it back to another teammate, who then pitched to Matt Sandoval. Sandoval scampered to his own 48 before being brought down, 11 yards short of a first down.
From here, Powell kneeled it down until the clock expired.
There was little doubt among the Broncs this was a different Powell team than the one Cody beat 38-14 earlier in the season.
“We knew they’d be a different team,” Jeff Williams said. “We knew it’d be the semifinal, we knew it’d be hard.”
Sandoval led the Broncs on the ground with 39 rushing yards on nine carries. Gus Mahieu and Nic Talich chipped in 5.5 tackles apiece on defense.
Karhu had 88 total yards and a touchdown for the Panthers. Adrian Geller led the defense with seven tackles.
Cody will graduate 18 seniors from this season.
“I’m going to miss this senior class,” McFadden said. “It was a great senior class, they gave a lot to this program.
“They’ll go on and do great things but it’s hard to say goodbye.”
There were few dry eyes in the Cody locker room after the game.
“It’s been a blessing to be here,” Williams said. “I’m grateful to God to obviously play for this team and these coaches. They’re incredible. I wouldn’t give this away for the world.”