By Riley Hicks
Just when the Whitewater Wildcats thought they brought themselves back into the game with a 51-yard touchdown run from Miles Montgomery, the Starr’s Mill Panthers put an end to that notion on their next offensive possession. After driving down the field behind some stout running, Nick Brown punched it in from five yards out. The horns sounded off in the stadium, and Whitewater fans went silent as the Panther fans began to celebrate.
Following most of Starr’s Mill’s touchdowns, the Wildcat defense came off the field tired and frustrated. The Panthers strung together a strong rushing attack that Whitewater found hard to stop. When Cole Gilley hobbled off the field to the Starr’s Mill bench its first possession (he did not return), the question was could the other running backs step up in his place. Nick Brown, Khalen Sims, and Mitch Prowant answered the call for Starr’s Mill.
“As a team, when we see one of our dogs go down, we all have to step up and it’s the next man up,” Brown said. “This feels good, especially my senior year. We really want to lead the team to a bang.”
With the clock winding down, the Starr’s Mill students began to sing “Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey Goodbye,” signaling that the Panthers (7-1, 2-1) were moments away from beating their rivals the Wildcats (4-3, 2-1) by a final score of 43-21.
“It feels good for our kids because they were devastated last Friday night,” Panthers head coach Chad Phillips said of their heartbreaking, last-second loss to Griffin. “To see them overcome adversity and learn a valuable lesson that life is full of them and if you’re willing to work through, it good things will happen to you, and our kids did, and we are real proud of how they played.”
Through a scoreless first quarter, both defenses executed well, but the rushing game for the Panthers soon came alive in the second quarter. A 2-yard rushing touchdown from Brown put the Panthers ahead. Following the touchdown, the Panthers tried out a new formation. The line splits off to the left, leaving the center and quarterback in the middle. Joey DeLuca took the snap, rolled to his right, and took it in for a two-point conversion and an 8-0 lead.
From there they started to put their foot on the gas and control the game. On the ensuing Whitewater offensive possession, quarterback Maddox Mueller threw an interception on a deep heave to Starr’s Mill’s Joey Hunter, which led to another rushing score from Prowant one yard out, another two-point conversion, and a 16-0 lead.
Towards the end of the first half, Whitewater finally gained some momentum. A big third-down conversion on a quarterback keeper from Mueller set up a 1-yard run from Kyris Barnett with a burst up the middle helping close the gap before the half.
Every time the Wildcats battled their way back into the game the Panthers had an answer to stretch the lead back out, one of those a 62-yard pass from DeLuca to receiver Brandon Rew to put Starr’s Mill up 22-7.
Whitewater followed up with a 51-yard from Montgomery, who shook countless tacklers on his way to the end zone.
Throughout the night, penalties continued to hurt the Wildcats. A 59-yard quarterback keeper for a touchdown by Mueller was negated because of a holding call. From this play forward, Starr’s Mill was able to put the game away.
The Panther defense found a way to shut down the running game of the Wildcats. The only other touchdown for Whitewater was a 74-yard catch and run from Mueller to Hunter Williams to shorten the commanding Starr’s Mill had.
DeLuca put the nail in the coffin on a 1-yard run by stretching the ball over his offensive line. It was a much better moment for him than the way the Whitewater game ended last season.
“After last year, I think we owed them something, so we got after it,” DeLuca said. “It is just awesome when your teammates are picking you up knowing you have the game sealed at that point.”
This week, the Panthers head to face a McIntosh (5-1, 1-1) team coming off its first loss. Whitewater has a bye week next week and then hosts Riverdale (1-5, 0-2) following the bye.
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