KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Powell Panthers punched their ticket to the program’s third state championship appearance after knocking off 5A powerhouse West in the semifinals.
“It shows that we’ve been working hard since January, in the weight room, on and off the field,” said senior linebacker Cannon Lusby. “I couldn’t be more proud of my team and the way we’ve been playing.”
The last time the program played for a state title was 10 years ago. The chance for the Panther’s first-ever state title ended in a heartbreaking loss to Henry County.
The quest continues this Friday night.
“At Powell High School that’s always the goal: a state championship,” said offensive coordinator Josh Jones. “We knew with the team we had coming back, the players we had coming back, we knew it was going to be a reality. It was never easy. We play a really tough schedule in a really tough league, but the kids, they’ve worked hard and persevered.”
Powell head football coach Matt Lowe has been with the program for all three appearances. Lowe quarterback of the 1991 team and guided the 2011 team to the 5A title game.
“It may be a little more exciting for me because I’m a Powell kid,” Lowe said. “We aren’t coaching any different than we have the last ten years. These kids are the ones who made the decision that we’re not going to lose and we’re going to find ways to be successful, so that’s what is exciting for me.”
The Panther’s offensive line and defense as a whole have vastly improved as the season went on. The offensive line is comprised of freshman Nolen Warren at right guard, sophomore Blake Neely at left guard, sophomore Jesse Massengill at right tackle, sophomore Byron Finger at the center, and the lone senior Camron Gann at left tackle.
“I’m so proud of that group and what Pace Melvin, as the o-line coach, has done with that group has been amazing,” Lowe said.
As for Powell’s defense, the unit opened the season giving up an average of 33.5 points per game. Lusby said after the Maryville loss when the unit surrendered 52 points was the tipping point.
“We knew it was unacceptable,” Lusby said. “We didn’t play our best game then so, we had to come out the next week against Karns and shut down DeSean Bishop. Which we did. And we had to keep it going.”
Through Powell’s last six games, the defense has only given up an average of 4.5 points per game and has posted three shutouts.
“As the season has gone on they’ve learned to trust each other,” Lowe said. “He’s going to be in his gap. I’m going to be mine. So now they can really turn loose and play downhill, and they’re having a whole bunch of fun on the defensive side of the football.”
The defense will be key in their match-up with Page who runs their offense through quarterback Jake McNamara. The pass rush will be tasked with making the Colorado State commit uncomfortable in the pocket. Having the top defensive lineman in the state, and second-best in the country, in Walter Nolen should help.
“You’re not going to fully stop a guy who can play at that level, but you have to find ways when he does make a mistake to capitalize on it,” Lowe said. “You have to find a way to keep him corralled as much as possible.”
The 5A championship game begins at 7 p.m. in Chattanooga at Finley Stadium.