An offseason of effort paid off. Since January of this year, Starr’s Mill been working to get ready for their season opener, and it showed in a dominating 40-13 victory over the Newnan Cougars Friday night.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this bunch of kids,” said Coach Chad Phillips of the dedication they put in year-round. “It was brutal, but it paid off. That was our message all year: Hard work pays off.”
Playing for the first time on their new turf field, it was the same old pounding ground game that spurred the Panthers to victory. As a team, they ran for 328 yards.
“Nick (Brown) played well, Khalen (Sims) played well, and, of course, (Cole) Gilley is a beast,” said Phillips of his running backs.
The game kicked off with a bit of season-opening sloppiness, but the Panthers soon were polished and shining.
Their opening possession ended in disaster as Newnan intercepted a pass and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown. The Cougars attempted a two-point conversion, but were stopped short.
Quarterback Joey DeLuca bounced back and broke off the first big run for the Panthers on an option keeper, racing for a 40-yard score. The extra point attempt was blocked to lock the score at 6-6.
Newnan’s running backs powered the next series, breaking through would-be tacklers on an 80-yard scoring drive, capped off by a 9-yard touchdown run for a 13-6 lead.
After the score, the Panther defense stiffened up, shutting out Newnan the rest of the way and allowing just 203 total yards on the night.
“Defensively we’ve got a lot of guys that are first-time players,” said Phillips. “I couldn’t be more proud of the way they played with effort and passion.”
Starr’s Mill answered back with another chunk play, Khalen Sims taking a handoff up the gut and sprinting past the defense for a 56-yard scamper. The extra point was blocked again to narrow the deficit to 13-12, the last time they would trail.
The game soon started to unravel for the Cougars. They thought they ran the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown, but it was nullified by a penalty. Sean King then killed the drive with an interception to set the Panthers up past midfield.
The series looked stalled as they stared down a 3rd and 13 and the pressure came heavy on DeLuca, but he was able to scramble free and find Mitch Prowant over the middle for a 29-yard completion. Cole Gilley capped it off with a 3-yard plunge, and the extra point team got in the groove to take a 19-13 lead early in the second quarter.
Gilley found the end zone for a second time in the half, hitting the middle of the line and bouncing it outside to take it the distance on a 39-yard run and a 26-13 lead at halftime.
The defense struck again to late in the third quarter when senior Ryan Cockes read the quarterback rollout and stepped in front of the pass, intercepting it and returning it deep into Newnan territory. A horse collar penalty on the tackle tacked onto the end set the offense up inside the ten, and they didn’t waste it. Gilley punched it in from five yards out to build a commanding 33-13 advantage.
Late in the game, the Panthers added a bit more insurance on a Sims sweep. He got to the edge, turned the corner, and no one was going to catch him as he took it to the house on a 34-yard touchdown run and a 40-13 win.
Sims was the leading rusher on the night, picking up 111 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 7 carries. Gilley was right behind with 100 yards and 3 scores on 13 attempts. DeLuca added 53 yards and 1 touchdown, and Nick Brown chipped in 50 yards.
This week, the Panthers travel to Northgate to face another foe out of Coweta County.
To purchase photos from the game, click here.