Coming into this contest, on paper at least, this should have been the closest contest of the entire weekend. Both teams ranked in the top 5 offensively rushing the football, both were top 3 defenses and Tongue River even entered as the #1 ranked total defense in all of 2A. The biggest matchup that may have jumped out to many going in was the Tongue River 3rd ranked passing offense and QB Connor Cummins who had the 2A lead in QB efficiency rating and tied for the most passing TD’s in the classification vs a Cokeville pass defense that was their lone weakness on the stat sheet coming in, ranking 3rd from worst in 2A.
On paper, it appeared to be the biggest mismatch of the evening, and on paper should have been the most exploitable aspect of the ball game and perhaps been the catalyst to the Eagles advancing to round 2. Football however, is not played on paper and when everything got lined up on that field the Eagles immediately tried to take to the air as one would expect and the Panthers were ready. Cummins overall stats weren’t so bad, going 14 for 26 for 172 yards, only barely below his season averages in those categories, where things went astray was on the turnover differential where the Panthers lay ready to pounce all afternoon long anytime a mistake was made with a pass.
Five interceptions on the day by five entirely different Panthers was ultimately the difference in this contest and were the reason Cokeville was able to pitch the shutout and head to Lovell next week with a 17-0 round 1 victory in their pocket. Several times throughout the game the Eagles would have a decent drive being put together, in rhythm, moving the sticks, they would get deep into Cokeville territory, and then the ball hawks would strike. Landon Walker was the first to get his hands on a Cummins pass in the game and took home our award on the broadcast this week for player of the game with his INT and his offensive numbers (4 for 6 passing, 36 yards, 1 TD – 1 INT, and 126 yards on the ground) easily combining to make him the games most impressive performer.
After Walker, other Panthers to real in interceptions were Michah Peterson, Cael Thompson (who tipped the ball at the line of scrimmage and then picked it off Julius Peppers style), Tanner Hatch, and finally Kayson Walker on the final play of the game that wasn’t a kneel down. Speaking of Kayson, he also added a receiving TD on the game when he ran a corner route inside the 10 in the 2nd QTR. The first score of the game came on Cokeville’s opening possession after forcing a 3 and out on defense to start the game, the offense marched 51 yards and capped the drive with a 13 yard Jack Dayton touchdown run who added 66 more yards to his season-leading total in the Panthers first postseason game.
Coming into the game Alex Barker of Tongue River was also the 2nd leading rusher in total yardage this season across 2A behind Dayton, but the Cokeville run defense was stout, holding Barker to just 21 yards on 12 carries, under 2 per tote. The defense was the most standout aspect of this victory for the panthers and they will need to keep the defense strong heading into next week, a rematch with the undefeated Lovell Bulldogs looms and you can catch it right here on svinews.com over on SVI 3 and you can listen on The Wave.