RJ Howard was a matchup problem for Starr’s Mill, hauling in 7 catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. (Staff Photos by Christopher Dunn)

Sandy Creek spent the past week in a review session to correct self-inflicted wounds sustained a disappointing loss to Ridgeland last week. After starting hot out the gates, mistakes marred a winnable game. The Patriots struggled with turnovers and missed scoring opportunities. As a result, the Patriots found themselves in a similar spot as last season—underachieving as a team. 

In practice this week, the Patriots went hard in the film room, weight room, and on the field. The goal is simple. If they want to return to dominance and win a state championship, they have to play like it.  

“We just had to stay focused,” Patriots receiver R.J. Howard said. “We couldn’t let them get down like last year after a loss. We got a goal of a state championship and we have to stay focused.”

On Friday, Sandy Creek unleashed their explosive offense against Starr’s Mill. The Patriots posted 555 total yards and quickly lit up the scoreboard. After being tied at 14-14 midway in the first quarter, the Patriots scored 35 answered points and riding the offensive momentum to a 55-21 win. 

The Patriots improved to 2-1 and start region play against Troup County in two weeks. The Panthers fell to 1-3 and face Jonesboro next Friday. 

“We knew we had to score every drive,” Howard said. “That is our mindset, and we had to establish our dominance in the county again.”

Howard led the way for the Patriots. The senior receiver set the tone with 7 catches for 108 yards. He averaged 15.4 yards per catch and hauled in a 38-yard touchdown from quarterback Jamal Lewis in the second quarter. 

Jaquille Lee reels in a 29-yard touchdown pass.

Sandy Creek also got huge nights from running backs Rashad Amos and Jaquille Lee. Amos had 171 yards on 10 carries and 3 touchdowns. He was electric as he broke off touchdown runs of 73 and 62 yards on the night. Lee added 78 total yards, including a 29-yard touchdown catch from Lewis. 

Lewis and junior quarterback Matt Williams were a combined 16-for-22 for 220 yard, and Williams added a 16-yard rushing touchdown. The coaches will evaluate their performances via the QBR system and decide on a starter in practice. 

“We finally hit the receivers and the open guys,” Head Coach Brett Garvin said. “The quarterbacks did a great job in getting to their reads and taking what the defense is giving them. We told them, if you take what is given, we will keep it moving and go down to score.”

Starr’s Mill put up a great effort early. In the first quarter, the Panthers scored on their first two possessions. They needed just six plays to put up 14 points. Sean King hauled in a big catch-and-run, and Kalen Sims and Cole Bishop moved the ball on the ground. Bishop scored a 10-yard touchdown and Sims followed with a 64-yard run into the end zone. 

The offense sputtered on the third drive. Nic Toomer intercepted Hunter Lawson and that gave Sandy Creek momentum. From there, the Panthers went three-and-out on their last four possessions. 

The Patriots capitalized on those possessions as they scored on all the following drives. At halftime, Sandy Creek led 49-14. With the game effectively out of reach, both teams played backups to close it out. 

First-year player Jalen Lazenby continued his strong senior season with a late touchdown.

After the game, Starr’s Mill head coach Chad Phillips tipped his cap to Sandy Creek. He felt his team battled, but still struggled with inexperience and confidence issues. 

“Kids really hadn’t been out there and we have played some really good teams to start the season,” Phillips said. “It’s not where we want to be, but all we can do is go to work, get on the practice field, and watch film to put a game plan together for next week.”

Phillips believes his team can compete in the region. Starr’s Mill matches up well with the likes of Whitewater, Fayette County, McIntosh, and Riverdale. If the Panthers can defeat those teams, while competing with Griffin, they could host a playoff game. 

“We feel like we have a chance to compete in the region and if you do that, you can host a state playoff game,” Phillips said. “It is one of our goals and everything is still in front of us. Everybody is back at 0-0 and that is how we look at it.” 

As for Sandy Creek, they hope the momentum rolls over into the bye week. The Patriots to need to clean up some things, but feel like the taste of last week has been washed away. With young guys like Dealo Parson and Kasi Cost paying dividends, the future looks bright. 

“We got them to get back to doing what they were taught to do,” Garvin said. “They settled down and played really well.”


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