Panthers run wild in 43-25 win over Drew

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Jack Fletcher

The Panthers ran for 467 yards against Drew, raising their season average to 327.2 yards per game, and scored six touchdowns on the ground in the game at Drew. Panther quarterback hands the ball to the running back on one of the 56 carries of the night.

Jack Fletcher, Sports Co-Editor

For the second game in a row, the Panthers won on Homecoming. Only this time, it wasn’t theirs.

Starr’s Mill defeated the Drew Titans on their home turf for the first time in four years to keep their undefeated season in tact at 5-0.

“They chose us for their Homecoming, thinking that they might have an easy win against us, but we came out and showed them that we were the better team in that game,” senior running back Dion Munerlyn said. “They are probably one of the best teams we will play this season, but we can’t take that for granted. We have to respect every team we play.”

Coming off a bye week and a blowout win over Forest Park, Munerlyn ran for 178 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, while sophomore running back Rico Frye accounted for 226 all-purpose yards, including 208 on the ground, and four touchdowns to help the Panthers put the game away.

“I was just having fun out there,” Frye said. “I let the game come to me, and I wasn’t rushing anything. I had good blocking and trusted the coaches.” 

We need to play every game like it’s a playoff game now. We’re the third team in school history to go 5-0, and the others went undefeated. We all want to keep that streak alive.”

— Dion Munerlyn

The teams went back and forth in the first half, with Drew scoring first on an 86-yard touchdown run by senior running back Quarderman Sloan after the Titan defense forced a three and out to start the game. Sloan ran for 204 yards with two touchdowns on 12 carries.

Although the run defense has been a strength for the Panthers this season, Drew ran for 284 yards for 10.1 yards per carry. Coming into the game, the defense was allowing an average of 61.5 yards per game and 1.7 yards per carry.

“Ever since the school opened 19 years ago, it takes us a little bit of time to get adjusted to game speed because we don’t have players as fast as teams like Drew and Sandy Creek has,” Phillips said. “Our guys aren’t used to seeing players that fast, and that kid Sloan was fast as lightning, so we had some trouble stopping that, but we really buckled down in the second half.”

The Panthers responded quickly as sophomore quarterback Joey DeLuca connected with Frye for his first touchdown catch of his career, going 18 yards down the sideline. DeLuca finished 3 for 8 for 58 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

“They had the momentum after that run, so we needed to come out and show that we weren’t going to back down,” Frye said. “We did a good job of showing them that we were a fighting team.”

Drew scored again to retake the lead, moving 58 yards down the field in 1:53. A 5-yard touchdown run by senior wide receiver Kahari Richards capped off the drive, but Panther defense blocked the extra point attempt.

With the Titans up 13-7, the Panthers took the ball back, but a Panther fumble was recovered by Drew at the Panther 40-yard line. Drew turned the ball over on downs four plays later after the Panther defense swarmed the backfield for a 9-yard loss on fourth down.

Starr’s Mill took advantage of the turnover. Munerlyn broke free for a 35-yard touchdown run with 10:18 left in the half, but the extra point to take the lead was blocked by the Titans, leaving the score tied at 13.

Drew, keeping the first half trend going, scored soon after. Sloan scored his second touchdown of the game 30 seconds later, going 43 yards to put the Titans up 19-13. The Panthers stopped the 2-point conversion attempt.

On the next possession, Frye fumbled and Drew recovered, giving Drew a short field and a chance to go up two scores. It looked like they would, getting to the 4-yard line. But on fourth-and-1, the defense, which has allowed opponents to successfully convert only four out of 15 fourth down attempts on the season, stifled the Titans’ hopes of tying the game.

The Panthers were unfazed by the poor field position and put together their longest drive of the season, going 95 yards in 16 plays while taking 6:55 of the clock. A 32-yard pass from DeLuca to sophomore wide receiver Brandon Rew put the offense on the 3-yard line, where Munerlyn was able to score his second touchdown of the game to put the Panthers up 20-19 at halftime. The lead would not change hands again.

“We took all the momentum with us into half,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “They really only stopped us once in the half and they looked winded going into the break. We had taken it to them and we all knew that. Our plan going in was to keep the ball out of their hands and we did just that.”

The plan worked, as the Panthers had more than double the time of possession than Drew, holding the ball for 33:45 minutes of game time compared to 14:15. In fact, the Titans’ longest possession lasted just 1:56 in the second half.

Drew began the half with the ball and was moving down the field before sophomore safety Cole Gilley intercepted a deep pass from senior quarterback Joseph Newman. The Panthers started at the 1-yard line and moved to midfield before being forced to punt.

On the first play of the Titans’ next drive, the Panther defense forced a turnover for the second straight drive, as Newman fumbled. The ball was recovered by senior lineman Ryan Spiecha, who took a pile of players on both teams to the 5-yard line. Frye ran for a touchdown on the next play, increasing the Panther lead to 27-19.

After the Starr’s Mill forced a punt on the next possession, DeLuca threw his third interception of the season in the redzone. Drew took advantage, going 75 yards in six plays and scoring a touchdown on a 15-yard rush by Newman. A failed 2-point conversion to tie the game kept the Panthers up, 27-25, with 10:30 left in the game.

From there, it was all Starr’s Mill. Frye scored his third touchdown of the game on a 16-yard touchdown run with 7:40 left, and the Panther defense forced a safety 15 seconds later when Drew was called for holding penalty in the endzone, putting the Panthers up 36-25.

Frye scored the last touchdown of the night with 6:39 left, breaking away for a 44-yard rush to set the Panthers up in the redzone before charging through the line for a 3-yard touchdown. The Titans’ last chance of a comeback ended on a failed fourth down attempt with 5:12 left in the game, and the Panthers held the ball until the final whistle.

“We need to play every game like it’s a playoff game now,” Munerlyn said. “We’re the third team in school history to go 5-0, and the others went undefeated. We all want to keep that streak alive.”

Next up for the Panthers is, in most students’ eyes, the biggest game of the season against rival McIntosh. The game is a one-game home stand for the Panthers and will be Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Panther Stadium.

The Panthers are hoping to see a key contributor return next week, as senior defensive back Satchel Goodrich is expected to play in a limited basis after missing the past three games with a foot injury.
“We’re going to ease him into it,” Phillips said. “Down the road, he’s going to be critical for us, so we want him to be as close as he can be to ready before he comes back. The worst thing that can happen is him coming back too early and getting hurt even worse.”