Panthers tie Wildcats in preseason scrimmage

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Panthers tie Wildcats in preseason scrimmage

Senior Nick Brown jukes past a Wildcat defender on his way to the end zone. Brown rushed for two touchdowns during the scrimmage at Locust Grove.

Senior Nick Brown jukes past a Wildcat defender on his way to the end zone. Brown rushed for two touchdowns during the scrimmage at Locust Grove.

Shelby Foster

Senior Nick Brown jukes past a Wildcat defender on his way to the end zone. Brown rushed for two touchdowns during the scrimmage at Locust Grove.

Shelby Foster

Shelby Foster

Senior Nick Brown jukes past a Wildcat defender on his way to the end zone. Brown rushed for two touchdowns during the scrimmage at Locust Grove.

Rilee Stapleton, Editor-in-Chief

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Last Friday, the Starr’s Mill football team traveled to Locust Grove to take on the Wildcats in a preseason scrimmage. This is the second consecutive year the Panthers have played a scrimmage against Locust Grove. Last season, a late field goal gave the Panthers a narrow 17-14 victory. This year, the two teams showcased their entire rosters in a back and forth contest that resulted in a 28-28 tie.

“It felt great to finally be back in my element with the team,” senior running back Nick Brown said. “We talked about this season so much this off-season, but now it’s finally here and we can get ready to work.”

This team has a chance to do what no other team has in 20 years.”

— Head coach Chad Phillips

The Panthers received the opening kickoff and used their first drive to take a 7-0 lead. After their defense forced a punt, the Panther offense returned to the field. The strong start continued and they increased their lead to 14-0. However, that momentum was short-lived, and the Wildcats began to fight back.

Throughout the second quarter, the Wildcats chipped away at their deficit. Three straight touchdowns left them with a 21-14 lead at halftime. The momentum again shifted and the Panthers eventually regained the lead 28-21. Locust Grove put the final points on the board and the teams walked off the field with the final score knotted at 28-28.

“We’re inexperienced on defense. We’re going through some growing pains,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “But it’s expected this early [in the season].”

Despite being inexperienced on defense, the Panthers return many players on that side of the ball. Linebacker Ryan Cockes and defensive end Colten Houser are part of the  loaded senior class for Starr’s Mill. The 2018 class also includes quarterback Joey DeLuca, first team all-state running back Cole Gilley, Brown, and an offensive Swiss army knife in Mitchell Prowant.

Mixed in with these veterans are younger players like  junior defensive back Carson Walter and  junior kicker Michael Lantz, the top-ranked kicking recruit in the nation. Also, sophomore running back Kalen Sims could receive more carries this year in the deadly Panther backfield.

“[Sims] is starting to do his job, and [sophomore] Hunter Lawson is more than an adequate backup quarterback,” Phillips said. “The future is bright and we’re just going to keep working.”

Shelby Foster
Senior Mitchell Prowant looks downfield while carrying the ball. Prowant was used in the running and passing game last season, racking up 10 combined touchdowns.

The Panthers are playing the same schedule from a year ago, but the locations are swapped. Once again, Starr’s Mill faces three difficult opponents in their first four games as they play the AAAAAAA Newnan Cougars as well as Northgate and Sandy Creek.

“[Newnan] is gonna be a big challenge for us,” Phillips said. “Hopefully we can play with them this year.”

In the region, the two biggest games come against Griffin and Whitewater. The Bears and Wildcats tied for first place in the region last year with Starr’s Mill. While the tiebreaker favored that Panthers a season ago, they look to repeat but as out-right region champions in 2017.

No Starr’s Mill football team has ever won two region titles in consecutive years, but this year’s group looks to put their names in the history books. Gilley is coming off a stellar season in which he nearly broke multiple school records. Along with Sims and Brown helping in the backfield, it seems more than possible that the Panthers repeat as region champions.

“[My] goal for [the seniors] is to leave a legacy of being two-time region champions,” Phillips said. “This team has a chance to do what no other team has in 20 years.”

The Newnan Cougars will travel to Panther Stadium to open the new season. The Panthers will be playing their first game on their new turf field. After narrowly falling to Newnan last year, 28-21, the Panthers will look to prove themselves against the larger school. The 2017 season begins on Aug. 25 at 7:30 p.m.