By JON MENTZER
Express Staff Writer
As expected, the Carey Panthers once again entered Saturday's 1AD2 Idaho State Football Tournament's opening round game undefeated and ready to put up a lot of points against the North Gem Cowboys.
And like clockwork, the end result was an unscathed record and a 48-0 drubbing by the Panthers, who now look to take on the Castleford Wolves next week at Idaho State University's Holt Arena in Pocatello on Saturday, Nov. 12, at noon.
Amidst a chilly and windy afternoon in Carey, the Panther's stood tall on their home field.
Despite a slow start by Carey (10-0 overall, 5-0 league), the Panthers relied heavily on junior quarterback Jordan Dilworth's arm, and North Gem's (3-6, 3-2) mistakes.
The Panthers forced five turnovers and tallied up 575 total yards in the game, including a 66-yard hook-and-lateral score to end the first half.
Dilworth ended the game with 334 passing yards and six total touchdowns on the game. He was nearly flawless in the passing game, going 18 for 32 in passing attempts.
The ground game is the Panthers' usual bread and butter, but Carey took advantage of North Gem's run defense with multiple screen passes that worked to perfection.
"We haven't done many screens this year," Carey head coach Lane Kirkland said. "The kids were just executing well, and that's what it takes."
Big plays were a must for Carey. The Panthers usually put points on the board often and early, but didn't score until five minutes left in the first quarter when senior tailback Charlie Rivera, who finished the day with 151 yards on 11 carries, took a 76-yard sweep up the right sideline for the opening score.
Uncharacteristically, Carey only had one rushing touchdown on the day despite running for 241 total yards as a team.
Rivera also scored on a well-executed hook-and-lateral play to end the first half.
The play came after Carey intercepted North Gem's sophomore quarterback, Caston Holbrook (who replaced senior quarterback Tyler McLain midway through the second quarter), with five seconds left in the first half.
Dilworth delivered a perfect strike to senior tight end Baley Barg, who then pitched the ball to Rivera. After a few moves to shake defenders, he coasted into the end zone for the score.
Kirkland claimed to have never run the play before, but it fooled the Cowboys' defense nonetheless.
"We never ran it before," said Kirkland. "We just tried it to see what we could come up with. Our athletes just made something happen out there."
The brisk winds played an X-factor in the game, giving both teams cold muscles and even chillier hands.
Kirkland said it took his team a full quarter to get fully comfortable with the game, but after the blood began flowing in his team's muscles, the offense and defense began to fly.
Special-teams play turned out to be very important in this matchup, as both teams muffed punt returns.
In the third quarter, North Gem forced Carey to punt. However, North Gem couldn't field the punt properly. North Gem's Holbrook received the punt, but the ball went through his hands and into the possession of Carey.
The Panthers scored seven plays later on a pass from Dilworth to junior tight end Dillon Cenarrusa.
"Any time special teams make a play, its going to be a game changer," said Kirkland. "Certainly when you recover a fumble in your territory, you're probably going to score, and the momentum will swing your way."
With a lead of 42-0, inching closer to the mercy rule, which would end the game with a 45-point lead after halftime, the Panthers couldn't get that extra push for a final score.
The Panthers finally got their wish with 1:11 left in the fourth quarter when Barg (who was playing safety) intercepted a pass to give the Panthers the ball. Eleven plays later, Dilworth found Barg in the end zone for another touchdown pass and the game's final score.
The Carey defense was stiff all day, allowing only 228 yards total offense by North Gem, 105 yards passing and 123 yards rushing.
Neither team played a perfect game when it came to penalties. North Gem tallied up eight penalties for 65 yards and Carey had four penalties for 30 yards.
Carey's top receiver for the day was senior tight end Jack Cenarrusa who put up 162 yards receiving on six receptions. He averaged 27 yards a catch and had one touchdown.
Barg was Dilworth's favorite receiver when it came down to the red zone. Barg finished the day with three receiving touchdowns and 73 yards receiving in the process.
Senior running back Chance Chavez put in a hefty day of running the ball. Chavez tallied up 68 yards on 13 carries while averaging 5.2 yards per touch.
When Rivera wasn't torching up long runs on the offense, he was playing main stopper on defense by leading Carey in tackles with 13. Junior defensive end Glen Andrews was second on the team with 12 tackles, three of which were for losses. Junior Francisco Gamino pitched in with 10 tackles as well, five of them were for losses.
Familiar foe for Carey
With Castleford's 44-38 win over Dietrich, the Wolves will try and derail Carey's quest for its sixth state championship and second in a row.
Castleford (9-2, 7-0) will enter Saturday's matchup with Carey on a seven-game win streak. Both teams are seemingly pumping on all cylinders, so this game should be a high-scoring affair.
Kirkland said he's been preparing his team for this game for a while.
"We've been preparing for Castleford all season," he said. "We're going to do whatever it takes, and if our defense does what it did [against North Gem], then it'll be a great ball game for us."
If a semi-final game in Holt Arena between the Carey Panthers and the Castleford Wolves sounds familiar, that's because the two teams met last year with the same implication: a trip to the state championship.
Both teams are entering the fight with undefeated conference records and wins over North Gem.
In last year's contest, Carey ran away with the win, 20-6 on its way to the state title. Carey had 313 yards in total offense in last year's meeting and held Castleford to just 190 yards on offense.
Carey ran the ball effectively, totaling 197 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. The Panther run-defense allowed a mere 2.6 yards a carry against the Wolves.
If there's a positive that Carey can look to, then it's Castleford's loss to Oakley earlier in the season. Carey beat Oakley at home to open the season, 38-16.