CAMP VERDE- Last week after the Cowboys took a loss against #2 Joy Christian, Head Coach Steve Darby talked about two players that they were going to have to prepare for when they took on the Paradise Honors Panthers.
Those two players were lineman Josh Kratzer and Billy Hilton. Kratzer a legitimate Division I prospect stands at 6 foot 4 290 pounds.
His line mate Hilton, stands at 6 foot and 300 pounds. These two Panthers were a force to be reckoned with all night.
The Panthers mainly ran off the right side of the line the whole game.
Running backs Sekou Tyler, Brandon Brown and Josh Essegian benefited from the protection down field by their two lineman, as all three entered the end zone at least once.
That wasn't the only way the Panthers got into the end zone though. On the opening kickoff senior Ethan Salcedo took it to the house for an 80-yard kickoff return that put the Panthers up 7-0 and they wouldn't look back.
Head Coach Steve Darby thought the Cowboys were their own worst enemy in their final home game of the season.
"We started flat in pre-game, the Coaches sensed it and tried to change the mood but as the game started, we just weren't playing to our potential," Darby said. "We had a great week of practice and felt the kids were well prepared but tonight we lacked energy across the board."
After the opening kickoff return the Cowboys were able to hold the Panthers off the score board again until Brandon Brown broke off a 48-yard run that put the Panthers in scoring position.
The Cowboys were then called for a sideline infraction and the ball was moved to the ten yard line.
From there it was two back-to-back runs off the right side by Tyler that put six more points on the board for the Panthers.
The Cowboys answered back though, but it was their only score of the night.
Sophomore gunslinger Payton Sarkesian led the Cowboys down the field.
To start off the drive Sarkesian threw a 35 yard pass to senior Thomas Herrera.
That play was followed by four more pass plays, one of which was thrown by sophomore Ryan Loza.
Sarkesian pitched the ball to Loza who immediately got set to throw after the Panthers were able to break through the line.
Throwing prematurely, Loza found senior Trevor Heyer for an 18-yard gain.
After two runs by senior Jaysen Leonard and a quarterback keeper by Sarkesian the Cowboys were knocking on the door, five-yards out.
The next play, senior Bryce Wantland found the end zone on an end-around. After a failed PAT attempt the Cowboys were down 6-14.Seeing that it would be hard to run with Kratzer and Hilton plugging up the line, Darby thought the Panthers pass defense was something that they could take advantage of.
"With their line size we knew it would be tough to run up the middle, on tape we felt their pass defense was their weakness, and the game plan did include more passing than usual," Darby said. "Payton seemed to be having an off night and we also had a lot of dropped passes. The bright spot was our offensive line which in most cases did give us time to throw, we have no seniors on the starting line and are mostly all underclassmen, and this is something we can build on for the future."
After the Cowboys touchdown it wasn't long before the Panthers found the end zone again. Simply controlling the line of scrimmage the Panthers marched down the field behind a 20-yard run by Tyler and a 18-yard run by Brown the Panthers were moving the ball easily. It was Tyler who ended the drive again breaking off a 27-yard touchdown run. After a successful PAT the Panthers took a 21-6 lead.
On the first Cowboy play of their next offensive drive, the Panthers got the ball back after a fumble in the middle of the field.
Sarkesian found Wantland streaking across the middle for a nice pitch and catch, only to be thwarted by the Panthers defense.
The Cowboys defense put pressure on the young freshman quarterback for the Panthers Jordan Gourley but it wasn't enough.
Brandon Brown broke off a 30-yard touchdown run and put the Panthers up 27-6.
After a Payton Sarkesian interception on the next Cowboy drive.
Brown found the endzone again from 2-yards out, and with 3:59 left in the game, the Panthers were up 34-6. The Panthers scored once more before half going up 42-6 on a pass from Gourley to Clayton Duzy.
Gourley threw the pass and it was tipped by Leonard.
Duzy made a nice reaction to the tip and with no one behind him got into the end zone untouched. The Cowboys put together a nice drive after the duzy of a touchdown but were battling the clock.
After Wantland returned the kickoff 48-yards, Sarkesian connected with Loza for a 23-yard pass play.
Two plays later with the clock ticking away at 37-seconds, he Sarkesian found Wantland for a 21-yard pass play.
It wasn't enough though as the Cowboys ran out of time going into halftime.
At halftime, the Cowboy seniors were honored.
Seniors Trevor Heyer, Jaysen Leonard, Dakota Brueland, Bryce Wantland, Thomas Herrera, Jordan May, Jesse Etienne, and Chandler Crittendon were honored along with the senior cheerleaders.
In the second half the Cowboys held the Panthers to just 12 points as the Panthers cruised to a 54-6 victory over Camp Verde.
Heading into the last game of the season the Cowboys will look to build on what they have accomplished this year and start to improve for next year.
Darby said his staff is excited about the future of Camp Verde football with the kids that they have coming back next year.
"We are a very young team and want to stress to the returning kids to continue to put the time into the weight room, be there for the summer program and in time the hard work will convert to success," Darby said. "We have some great kids in our program and as a staff we are excited about the future."
The Cowboys are on the road for their last game of the season as they travel to Mohave Accelerated on Friday to take on the Patriots.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.