Starr’s Mill needed one final puzzle piece to solve the Northgate Vikings.
Down 31-24 with a minute left, junior running back Kalen Sims crossed the goal line to give the Panthers a chance. They needed two points to tie and send it to overtime. Sims, the reigning Player of the Week, had scored three times again. Now, he just needed a couple yards to reset the game.
As he took the handoff, he was swarmed by Viking defenders. He fell short of the end zone as the Panthers failed to convert a two-point conversion. After recovering the onside kick, Northgate took over and escaped Fayette with a 31-29 victory.
“There is a lot to build on as we competed with a 6A school that is a traditionally good school,” Panthers head coach Chad Phillips said. “Two years ago, they competed in the state semifinals. I think our non-region schedule will get us ready for region play.”
While three points separated Starr’s Mill from a 2-0 start, several plays left the Panthers wondering what could’ve been. Missed opportunities was the theme of the night. The Panthers failed to convert a field goal, two-point conversions, and crucial third downs. They also had big penalties and some defensive miscues. The lost chances eventually caught up with the Panthers.
“We kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” Phillips said. “We had two big 15-yard penalties that really put us in a hole. It was uncharacteristic for Starr’s Mill and disappointing. It will get corrected.”
Northgate exploited the Panthers’ mistakes on the offensive end. The Vikings collected 277 total yards, despite having just two drives in the first quarter.
The Vikings took control behind senior running back Cameron Cruver. Cruver wore down the Starr’s Mill front seven with long runs, consistently hitting the hole and making a defender miss at the point of attack. Cruver set up the Vikings first touchdown with a 47-yard run. On the next play, he scored a 3-yard touchdown to get Northgate on the board.
Cruver finished the game with 20 carries for 160 yards and 2 touchdowns. He averaged 8 yards per rush and accounted for 12 points. The Vikings also got a rushing touchdown from Tanner Hughes and an 8-yard receiving touchdown from Gerald Harris.
“We had some mistakes on run stunts where guys didn’t fit in the gaps,” Philips said. “The (run) trap was a big for them as one of our lineman got up field. It is something that we will fix.”
The Panthers offensive attack kept them in the game. It allowed them to keep pace with the Vikings throughout the first half.
Starr’s Mill dominated early with a 16-play drive to open the game. They took seven minutes off the clock before Northgate had a chance to touch the football, but they failed to cash in on the first drive. Michael Lantz missed a field goal attempt as the Panthers came up with an empty possession. The missed field goal loomed large as it kept the game scoreless.
In the second quarter, the Panthers found the end zone. Hunter Lawson hit Sean King on a slant for a 12-yard touchdown. On the next drive, Sims rumbled for a 17-yard touchdown as the Panthers opened a 13-0 advantage.
Sims also propelled the offensive attack, running hard against a tough defense. He showed his elite vision on multiple drives, finishing with 148 yards on 23 carries. His backfield mate, Ardit Hoti, finished with 99 yards rushing.
“(Sims) is getting better and better,” Phillips said. “We got to get him blocking better, but he is getting better every week.”
Starr’s Mill had a 16-14 lead at halftime before cracks started showing. Northgate took the lead in the third quarter and never looked back, and they scored their final touchdowns in the last 15 minutes of the game to improve to 1-1 on the season.
The Panthers will face Chapel Hill this week, and they are dealing with some injuries. A couple of guys are banged up, including sophomore Nathan Kearns. Kearns left the game in the first half with a shoulder injury. Phillips is concerned that it is his collarbone that and hopes that the diagnosis is positive. Kearns is a key part to the Panthers as he is the backup quarterback and plays on offense and defense.
“Hopefully, his injury is not as bad as they presume it to be,” Philips said. “He ran the ball and a bunch of guys landed on him.”
Phillips knows it will be a challenge to replace Kearns. The schedule lends no favors and his team will need to rally around each other.
“We got another huge test against Chapel Hill and then we have Sandy Creek right after that,” Phillips said. “This may be another season we start 1-3, but what we are building for is to try and win a third region title.”
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-Northgate”]here[/btn].