Patriot backfield too much for Panther defense, Starr’s Mill falls 35-21

Sophomore+Carson+Walter+attempts+to+tackle+a+Patriot+running+back.+Sandy+Creek%E2%80%99s+running+backs+accounted+for+353+of+the+Patriots%E2%80%99+460+total+yards.
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Patriot backfield too much for Panther defense, Starr’s Mill falls 35-21

Sophomore Carson Walter attempts to tackle a Patriot running back. Sandy Creek’s running backs accounted for 353 of the Patriots’ 460 total yards.

Sophomore Carson Walter attempts to tackle a Patriot running back. Sandy Creek’s running backs accounted for 353 of the Patriots’ 460 total yards.

Aelise Gagliano

Sophomore Carson Walter attempts to tackle a Patriot running back. Sandy Creek’s running backs accounted for 353 of the Patriots’ 460 total yards.

Aelise Gagliano

Aelise Gagliano

Sophomore Carson Walter attempts to tackle a Patriot running back. Sandy Creek’s running backs accounted for 353 of the Patriots’ 460 total yards.

Rilee Stapleton, Staff Writer

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Going into Friday’s contest against the Sandy Creek Patriots, the Starr’s Mill Panthers were considered underdogs. However, the Panthers showed they could compete with the Patriots throughout the game. But a hard fought game would result in Sandy Creek coming away with a 35-21 victory.

“We challenged our guys to play one play at a time,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “We played a good team and we played them well.”

The Patriots came into the game with a slew of running backs to boast a deadly running game. The trio of seniors Jaelen Greene, Marvin Hubbard, and Drezyn Parson combined for 318 yards rushing. For the Panthers, junior Nick Brown led the way with 53 yards on 10 carries and one touchdown. However, the story of the night was the Panther defense. Junior Ryan Cockes had two interceptions that set up two Panther touchdowns keeping Starr’s Mill in the game.

Junior Ryan Cockes runs an interception back during the third quarter of Friday’s game. The Panther defense forced two turnovers to keep them in competition with the Patriots.

Aelise Gagliano
Junior Ryan Cockes runs an interception back during the third quarter of Friday’s game. The Panther defense forced two turnovers to keep them in competition with the Patriots.

“I was just reading the quarterback’s eyes,” Cockes said. “I was trying to get a pick and run with the ball.”

The opening drive consisted of multiple passes from the Patriots that the Panthers couldn’t stop. The first possession ended in a Patriot touchdown on a 28-yard pass from junior quarterback Bryant Walker to senior wide receiver Kaleb Slaughter. The following Panther drive was a quick one, as they punted after three plays. After the punt, the Patriot offense came back on the field and started working the ball down the field once again. A 45-yard run by Greene to start the drive would set up his own score a couple of plays later, and the Patriots gained a 14-0 lead early.

“We played well, but our defense is better against the pass, not so much against the run,” Phillips said. “Once they found out we couldn’t stop the run they ran it down our throats.”

The Panther offense returned to the field, only to have another drive end quickly with a punt. However, on the next drive Cockes came up with his first interception of the night. He returned it to the Sandy Creek 16 yard line, and two plays later junior quarterback Joey DeLuca threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to junior Mitch Prowant.

Sandy Creek took over with 2:35 left in the first, and their drive went into the second quarter. Hubbard started the drive with five straight carries before Walker found a man for a 39-yard completion. On the next play, the Patriots scored once more to put the score at 21-7.

Both teams took turns punting and neither scored before half. The Patriots had gained 128 rushing yards in the first half to go along with 107 yards passing.

“We [have] to be better tacklers in space,” Phillips said. “Defense is all about fundamentals and we have to be better.”

Junior running back Nick Brown avoids two Patriot defenders. The Panther backfield gained 161 yards against a tough Sandy Creek defense.

Aelise Gagliano
Junior running back Nick Brown avoids two Patriot defenders. The Panther backfield gained 161 yards against a tough Sandy Creek defense.

The Panthers started the second half with the ball, and marched down the field. A 15-play drive, accompanied with some Sandy Creek penalties helped the Panthers finish the possession with a touchdown. Brown punched the ball in from a yard out and the lead was cut to 21-14.

“Blocking wise, we got better and we started breaking some big runs,” DeLuca said. “We did well, I’m proud of the way we played.”

The next Patriot drive ended quickly as Cockes grabbed his second interception and on the next play, junior running back Cole Gilley scored from a yard out. Now 21-21, the Panthers had momentum and looked as if they could pull off the upset.

With 3:22 left in the third quarter, the Patriots had possession and wanted to regain their lead. They traveled 80 yards down the field in seven plays and Greene scored his second touchdown of the night. Now 28-21, the Panthers needed to respond.

“We had the momentum,” DeLuca said. “I thought [that] we could have definitely taken it away, but we made some stupid mistakes.”

The third quarter ended with a Panther punt, and it was up to the defense to keep them in the game. The Patriots running backs outgained the Panthers, 88-72, in the third quarter. The Patriots found that running was working for them and opened the fourth quarter with a seven-play, 97-yard drive in which Greene scored his third touchdown of the game.

With eight minutes left, the Panthers had another 14-point deficit to overcome. But they could only manage to get to the Patriots’ 30 yard line before turning the ball over on downs. The Patriots ran the rest of clock out and held onto a 35-21 victory.

“These first four games were tough,” Cockes said. “We only got one win but I think we can win the rest out.”

The Panthers will start region play this Friday against the Morrow Mustangs. Both teams hold a 1-3 record, and have allowed the most points of all the teams in the region. However, it’s homecoming for the Panthers and they look to get their season back on track against the Mustangs. Kickoff in Panther Stadium is at 7:30 p.m.