Strong defense and offense propelled the Carey High School Panthers to their sixth straight victory in a 58-22 drubbing of the North Gem Cowboys in Carey Friday evening.
High individual numbers on both sides of the line highlighted another strong Panther performance. Quarterback D. J. Simpson completed 11 of 17 passes for 178 yards, running back Connor Rivera rushed 11 times for 166 yards, and three Panthers recorded tackles in the double digits.
Now 7-1 overall and 6-0 in league play, Carey continued its domination of the Sawtooth Conference. If that wasn't enough good news for the Panther faithful, Friday's game saw the return of Carey senior standout Brad Hunt, who broke his left arm Sept. 22 in the fifth game of the season against Dietrich.
"He's doing well," said Carey coach Lane Kirkland. "He got a good week of practice, we put him in on some plays and he caught some passes."
Kirkland said Hunt will likely see light duty again in tonight's final regular season game against Richfield. "We're probably just going to save him for the playoffs," he said.
Originally scheduled for Friday, Oct. 27, the Carey-Richfield league finale was rescheduled for tonight at 7 p.m. at Derrick Parke Memorial Field in Carey because the Richfield volleyball team will be playing in the State 1A tournament starting Thursday. It will be Carey's "Senior Night."
Light duty or not, Hunt caught three passes against the Cowboys, two of them for touchdowns.
Hunt is one of two Carey standouts who have been sidelined this year with broken left arms. Cody Baird broke his in game four Sept. 15 against Rockland.
Kirkland said Baird's prognosis is uncertain, but there's a possibility he'll rejoin the team for the State 2A Division 2 playoffs starting Nov. 3 in Carey.
The loss of Hunt and Baird had the potential to hurt the team's performance, but other Panthers have stalwartly filled the gaps.
"The kids really stepped up and filled Cody's and Brad's place," said Kirkland. "They have really done a good job."
A few statistics from the North Gem game illustrate what Kirkland was talking about.
Filling in for Hunt at running back duties, Rivera rushed 11 times against the Cowboys for 166 yards. He scored touchdowns on a 19-yard scamper in the first quarter and on a 61-yard romp in the fourth. He also scored a TD in the second quarter on a 45-yard pass from Simpson.
Quarterback Simpson recorded some good numbers too. Of his 11 pass competitions, three were for touchdowns. Simpson ran for two touchdowns himself, one for 18 yards in the first quarter and the other for one yard in the third.
Defensive play was highlighted by 15 tackles by Wulf Lebrecht, 14 by Blake Whitby, 12 by Allen Peck and nine by Jesus Ocampo.
Peck also returned an interception for 43 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter.
The Panthers dominated the game, leading 16-0 after the first period, 30-14 at halftime, 52-22 after three, and 58-22 at the final gun. The Panthers racked up 469 offensive yards, compared to 259 for the Cowboys.
"I think our defensive line did an outstanding job in stopping the run against an oversized line of North Gem," Kirkland said. "We pretty much dominated the line of scrimmage. We're just playing really well now. We're excited to have Brad back, and are looking forward to pushing into post season."
Carey has already grabbed the top seed for Sawtooth Conference playoffs, a series of two state quarterfinal and one state semi-final games that will send one Sawtooth squad into the State 1A Division 2 championship game against a team from either northern or southwestern Idaho.
The Mackay Miners (7-1 overall, 5-1 league) have secured the number two seed for the playoffs, but the three and four slots remain open to either Camas County of Fairfield, Dietrich or North Gem, depending upon the outcome of games Friday.
Camas County (4-4, 3-3 league) plays at Rockland, while Dietrich (4-4, 4-2 league) travels to Bancroft to take on North Gem (4-4, 3-3 league). Wins by Camas and North Gem would leave them and Dietrich in a three-way tie. That situation would be settled in a shootout that is tentatively set for Monday, Oct. 30, at a neutral location. One team would be eliminated in the shootout. The winning team would travel to Mackay, and the second-place shootout team would travel to Carey.