by Riley Hicks
Friday night brought the renewal of one of the biggest rivalries in the county with the annual Battle of the Bubble. Coming into the game, the teams were on opposite sides of the spectrum with the Starr’s Mill Panthers on the path to another region championship, and the McIntosh Chiefs fighting to hopefully find a spot in the playoffs. From the opening kickoff, the Panthers dominated in all three phases of the game, especially on offense with a strong rushing attack lead by Kalen Sims. The Chiefs tried to find some momentum late but were unsuccessful, leading to 38 unanswered points and a 38-20 Starr’s Mill victory.
“I thought they played very physical,” Panther head coach Chad Phillips said of his team. “I have been proud the past two weeks. We have been the most physical team on the field, and that is something our whole staff preaches. The defense continues to improve. (McIntosh’s Dane) Kinamon is one of the best players we played all year, and we bottled him up.”
The only bump in the road for Starr’s Mill’s first team offense came on their first drive with a red zone fumble that was recovered by the Chiefs’ Ben Anderson. McIntosh looked to have something going offensively following the fumble, but two penalties canceled out big gains and a sack on third down forced a punt.
On the ensuing Panther possession, a 45-yard touchdown pass from Hunter Lawson over the top of the secondary to Sean King broke the deadlock and gave Starr’s Mill a 7-0 lead with 5:43 left in the first quarter.
After another stop on defense, the Panthers went back on the attack and drove right down the field to score another touchdown, leaning heavily on the run. Capping off the drive was Sims, who scored on a 6-yard rushing touchdown to give his team a 14-0 lead with 7:11 left in the half.
Sims made sweet music before and during game with a stirring rendition of the National Anthem and a stellar rushing performance of 118 yards and 1 touchdown on 13 carries.
“I take pride in both [football and singing]. Early in the week (McIntosh students) were making fun of me but I like to sing,” Sims said of his time in the spotlight.
He is never satisfied and punished himself for mistakes with postgame pushups.
“I messed up a few times in the game, so I had to discipline myself,” said Sims. “I got to make sure I keep working and punish myself for the mistakes, so I can continue to do better.”
Sims broke off a 30-yard run on the next possession to put his team deep into Chief territory. A few plays later, Lawson kept the ball and followed his line for a 2-yard score to give the Panthers a 21-0 lead at halftime.
Entering the second half, the Panthers kept their foot on the pedal and found more ways to score. After burning nearly six minutes off the clock, top college prospect Michael Lantz nailed a 50-yard field goal to go up 24-0, and following a quick stop of defense, Wes Haney streaked down the sideline for a 77-yard punt return to give his team a 31-0 advantage with 2:08 left in the third. To cap off the dominating performance on offense, Jalen Lazenby found a gap in the Chiefs defense and sprinted untouched for a 43-yard rushing touchdown to go up by 38 in the fourth.
The never-quit attitude of the Chiefs did allow for some late touchdowns to build momentum for next week. In just under five minutes of play, Calvin Flowers piled up 115rushing yards with 2 touchdowns on just 5 attempts. His first carry went for a 78-yard score where he sprinted down the left sideline and managed to stay inbounds, and the other score was a 2-yard run with time expiring on the clock. McIntosh also picked up a touchdown on a fumble by Starr’s Mill, where a majority of the players had no idea where the ball was until it was in the hands of Jaden Nelson, who went 32 yards untouched into the end zone.
Starr’s Mill (5-3,4-0) will now try to keep its undefeated streak in the region alive when they come back home in two weeks to face another undefeated in the Riverdale Raiders. This game should have major region implications on who may capture this year’s championship.
For McIntosh (2-5,1-2), they must quickly forget about this game and get ready to face the Griffin Bears when they come to town Friday night.
To see more photos from the game, click [btn type=”default or primary or success or info or warning or danger or link” link=”https://www.cdphotography23.com/Sports/High-School/Football/Football-2018/Starrs-Mill-vs-McIntosh/”]here[/btn].