The teenager fired home just before half-time to cancel out Aleksandr Prudinikov's opener in a 1-1 draw at home to Rubin Kazan.
That goal kept Latics in second place in Group D, two points behind last season's quarter-finalists but more importantly two ahead of Maribor, who registered their first win against Belgium's Zulte Waregem.
The 19-year-old, who has made just six appearances for United since his B£4million move from Crewe in June 2012, scored his third goal of the competition in a display full of positivity.
He offered plenty to Wigan in terms of his movement and threat in the final third playing in an advanced role just behind striker Grant Holt, making his European debut.
It was the first time the pair had played together so there could be some excuse for the lack of a proper understanding - but Powell appears the sort of footballer who learns quickly.
He certainly grasped the responsibility after Wigan had fallen behind to Rubin's first real chance after a misjudgement from centre-back Leon Barnett allowed Prudinikov to run through to give his side a 15th-minute lead.
The Russian club held that advantage for 25 minutes until Powell fired a low shot just inside goalkeeper Sergei Ryzhikov's right-hand post after some crisp build-up play.
Three of Rubin's starting line-up - goalkeeper Ryzhikov, captain Roman Sharonov and striker Prudnikov - were part of the side who famously beat Barcelona in the Nou Camp in the Champions League almost exactly four years to the day.
Unlocking the Latics' defence may have proved somewhat easier as Prudnikov took advantage of inexperience at the back to open the scoring.
Barnett half-heartedly stepped forward trying to play the striker offside from Chris Mavinga's cross - an error of judgement which proved costly as the Russian striker took the ball in his stride and fired past Scott Carson.
That undid much of the good work Wigan had put in place from the start with former Liverpool reserve team defender Mavinga blocking a Powell shot which resulted in vain appeals for a penalty.
Rubin took control as their hosts struggled to recover their composure after going behind and Aleksandr Ryazantsev fired just wide.
Having racked up nine goals in their previous two European matches they would have expected to add to their tally but Wigan recovered from their wobble admirably.
Their best move of the first half saw FA Cup final hero Ben Watson find Holt, who then squared for Powell to dummy - only for Jordi Gomez to lean back and balloon a shot into the empty stand behind the Rubin goal.
Holt's acrobatic attempt was blocked after Carson's long punt created confusion in the penalty area while Watson fired a free-kick straight at the goalkeeper.
But when Wigan did click into gear it worked wonderfully well with Watson cleverly backheeling Chris McCann's pass into the path of Powell, who drove home from the edge of the penalty area with inch-perfect precision just inside Ryzhikov's right-hand post.
Prudnikov could have immediately restored the visitors' lead but missed the target but as the half came to an end Wigan looked far more confident.
The interval probably came at the wrong time for Latics as the game was more scrappy in the second half and they did not create a genuine chance until 20 minutes before the end.
Substitute Marc-Antoine Fortune, on for Holt, rolled his marker and advanced on goal but surrounded by three defenders he could only shoot weakly at the keeper, who denied another substitute Callum McManaman with a near-post block late on.
But Ryzhikov saved his best for last, brilliantly saving at close-range from Fortune in added time.