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Imblerís Riley Merrigan strips Coveís Luke Bundren in the Panthersí 68-14 victory over the Leopards on Friday. CASEY KELLAS - The Observer
COVE — The Imbler Panthers continue to prove that they’re one of the top teams at the 1A level this season.
The Panthers improved to 7-0 with a 68-14 shellacking of Cove Friday, earning coach Lee Lowe his 200th career victory.
With the win the Panthers are now ranked second in the latest OSAA poll behind Lowell (6-1).
Imbler wasted no time in jumping all over its cross-county rival in a rain-soaked contest.
After Cove turned the ball over on downs on its opening possession, the Panthers took six plays to get on the board.
Joe Griffin busted off a 15-yard run to make it 8-0 after the two-point try.
The Leopards threw an interception on their first play of the next drive, and a couple plays later Griffin was in the endzone again.
The failed two-point attempt made it a 14-0 Panther lead with just under seven minutes left in the first quarter.
Imbler added two more touchdowns before the quarter ended — a pair of touchdown passes from Kyle Johnson to Casey Robertson — to make it 28-0 after one.
The Panthers stretched the lead to 42-0 before a dump pass to Chad Witty led to a 61-yard touchdown for the Leopards with 4:41 left in the half.
But a long score to Garrett Bigej and a lengthy run by Jaden Bales extended the IHS lead to 54-8 at halftime.
Bales got in the endzone again to start the third quarter and the Panthers went to their younger players the rest of the way.
Cove scored with one minute left in the third quarter on a run by Witty.
Imbler rounded out the scoring with a 13-yard run by Austin Insko with three minutes left in the game.
Griffin finished with 171 yards rushing on 22 carries.
The sophomore has now rushed for 1,158 yards this season to go along with 18 touchdowns.
Bales had 109 yards on 10 carries, while Insko had 49 yards on nine attempts.
Johnson completed four of 13 passes for 112 yards and four touchdowns.
Robertson had two catches for 57 yards, while Bigej had one for 50.
Cove was held to 40 yards rushing on 29 attempts and completed four of 27 passes for 83 yards.
With the win, Imbler clinches the Old Oregon League title for the fifth time in the past six seasons.
Lowe, who is in his 33rd season as head coach of the Panthers, now has a career record of 200-126.
He moved up to 19th place on the all-time Oregon list with the victory.
The Panthers will play Pine Eagle Thursday night at 7 at Community Stadium in La Grande.
The Spartans are 3-5 overall and 2-2 in the OOL after a 52-22 win over Joseph Friday.
Cove (4-3, 2-2) has now dropped two straight and will play host to Wallowa in the final regular season game.
The Cougars (1-6, 1-3) lost 69-0 to Powder Valley on Friday.