EVANSTON — A great crowd was on hand as the Evanston Red Devils rose to 4-0 on the season with a 3A West Conference-opening victory over the Powell Panthers, 26-7, on Friday night, Sept. 21.
It didn’t take long for the crowd to come alive as Kody Smith took the opening kickoff and returned it 92 yards to the house to give Evanston a 6-0 lead. The point-after-touchdown attempt ricocheted off the goal post, but with just 15 seconds into the game, Evanston had the early lead. It ended up being the Red Devils’ lone score of the first half.
The Panthers crossed midfield on their opening drive, assisted by a facemask penalty, but were forced to punt.
The Red Devils would take over from their own 12-yard line with a little over nine minutes remaining in the first quarter and the Panthers forced a three-and-out.
Powell started their second possession in good field position from their own 44 after receiving the punt with 8:40 left to play in the opening quarter. The Panthers again crossed into Red Devil territory with a combination of run and pass, but the drive stalled and the Panthers punted the ball back to Evanston with 6:41 left in the first quarter.
Evanston began from their own 20-yard line and picked up three first downs via the rushing attack with Tyus Cornia, Pablo Escalante and Angel Rodriguez running hard out of the Red Devil backfield. The Red Devils tried to get the aerial attack established but struggled with passes being dropped or overthrown.
Facing a fourth and 8 from the Panthers’ 34, a Seth Lloyd to Cris Periman pass fell incomplete and Evanston turned the ball over on downs to Powell with 2:41 left in the first quarter.
Powell running back Brody Karhu had a big run that advanced the ball to the Evanston 36. Mason Erickson of Evanston would leave the game following that play with an apparent ankle injury.
Panthers’ quarterback Ethan Asher orchestrated an impressive drive with short passes, a reverse and a designed quarterback-keeper that was culminated by a 1-yard Kadden Abraham touchdown run. The PAT by Ashton Brewer was good and with 10:29 left in the second quarter, the Panthers were on top, 7-6.
The Red Devils started the third possession from the Evanston 29, following a 13-yard kickoff return by Smith. Evanston advanced the ball to the Panthers’ 36, mostly on the legs of Cornia, but a chop-block penalty would help stall the drive and Evanston booted the ball back to Powell with 6:34 remaining in the half.
The Panthers began from their own 22 and picked up a first down, but would opt to punt facing a fourth down and 2 to go with 3:53 left in the half. The Panthers got the ball back quickly after a three-and-out for Evanston.
Powell started near midfield and on their second play from scrimmage, Cris Periman picked off an Asher pass and returned it for a score, but a holding call on the pick-6 return negated the touchdown, giving Evanston a first down at the Powell 27, instead. Evanston picked up a fresh set of downs on a Cornia run to the Panthers’ 16. The Red Devils would move the ball to the 8-yard line before losing a yard back to the 9.
With 29 seconds remaining in the half, Escalante attempted a 26-yard field goal which sailed wide right. The half came to a close after the Panthers took a knee on the first play from scrimmage of their final first-half possession, taking a one-point lead into the locker room.
The Panthers achieved a first down on a 16-yard Asher carry after receiving the opening kickoff of the second half but were forced to punt from their own 34 after a tackle for loss with 9:52 left in the third quarter.
Powell would receive the ball right back at the 8:16 mark after Evanston was unable to sustain a drive beginning from the Red Devils’ 38.
Kaelan Groves burst through for a gain of 40 yards, spotting the ball at the Powell 45, but the Red Devil defense would force losses of yardage on three consecutive plays, forcing a Powell punt at the 6:15 mark of the third quarter.
Periman returned the punt to the Evanston 29-yard line, setting up another big play for Smith. Lloyd dropped back and found Smith with a pass over the middle of the field and Smith took it the rest of the way for a 71-yard scoring strike. Evanston opted for a two-point conversion attempt that was picked off in the end zone, but with 5:56 left in the third, the Red Devils had recaptured the lead, 12-7.
The Panthers went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, with three incomplete passing attempts and booted the ball back to Evanston with 5:38 left in the third.
Evanston capped a nine-play, 54-yard drive with a half-yard touchdown run by Cornia, set up by a Lloyd to Rigden Wagstaff pass completion and runs by Cornia. Escalante’s PAT was true and with 1:44 left in the third quarter, the Red Devils padded their lead to a dozen, 19-7. The Panthers lost Karhu, a leader on both sides of the ball, to an injury right before Evanston’s third score of the night.
Asher connected with Groves on back-to-back long pass completions to advance the ball to the Red Devil 26 on the last play of the third quarter and the first of the fourth but would lose yardage on subsequent plays. On a fourth and 13, Powell attempted a fake punt that was stopped by Jagger Mitchell and Evanston took over on downs from their own 31-yard line with 10:48 remaining in regulation.
On a third-and-11, a dropped Lloyd pass necessitated a Red Devil punt at the 7:59 mark of the fourth quarter.
The Panthers appeared to have a good drive underway with rushes from Asher, but on a third and 7 from their own 27, Evanston’s David Baxter intercepted an Asher pass near midfield, the second turnover of the ballgame committed by the Panthers, with six minutes and change left to play.
The Red Devils would capitalize on the turnover with a five-play drive, capped off by a six-yard Cornia touchdown run, his 12th of the season through four games. The PAT was again good and with 3:12 left to play, the Red Devils owned a 26-7 lead.
The Panthers picked up one more first down before conceding and punting the ball back to Evanston. The Red Devils took a knee on the final two plays as the game clock expired.
The Red Devils travel to Cody on Sept. 28.