Panthers dominate Cougars in season opener


Shelby Foster

The Panthers run through the team banner before the game against Newnan. The game was played on the Panthers’ new turf field, and Starr’s Mill took home a 40-13 victory.

Rilee Stapleton, Editor-in-Chief

As the Panthers walked onto their brand new turf field for the first time, they were seeking revenge from a year ago. Last season, the Newnan Cougars hosted the Panthers to begin the year. The Cougars didn’t have much trouble, as they cruised to a 28-0 lead before the Panthers scored three touchdowns late in the fourth. After suffering the 28-21 defeat last season, the Panthers made sure they didn’t suffer the same fate this time.

“We didn’t come out scared,” senior quarterback Joey DeLuca said. “Last year we were a little timid, but this year we hit them right in the mouth.”

This time around, the Panthers made sure they walked off the field with a victory in hand. What seemed like a good game early, quickly turned into a one-sided affair. After four quarters, everyone inside Panther Stadium looked at a scoreboard that read 40-13, in favor of the Panthers.

Shelby Foster
Sophomore running back Kalen Sims runs with the ball. Sims only had seven carries, but he made the most out of them with 111 yards and two touchdowns.

“It was a great start,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “Playing at home makes a difference.”

The three-headed monster that lurks in the Panther backfield, seniors Cole Gilley, Nick Brown, and sophomore Kalen Sims, combined for 261 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Sims accounted for 111 of those yards by himself, and Gilley found the endzone three times. DeLuca completed one of his three passes and threw an interception.

Newnan only totaled 203 yards, and leading the way from them was senior Mautavier Parks, who rushed for 83 yards on 18 attempts. Junior quarterback Rad Wyrick completed three of his nine passes, but threw two interceptions.

“We were all ready to play, especially the backfield,” DeLuca said. “We were ready to get our senior year underway and start the football season.”

The Panthers received the opening kickoff immediately started doing what they do best: running the football. They ran the ball eight straight times to start the game, gaining 28 yards. The Panthers, on Newnan’s 29-yard line, finally decided to pass. DeLuca threw an incomplete pass to intended target Gilley, who dropped it. On the next play, DeLuca fired over the middle to senior Ryan Cockes. The ball went through his hands and right to a Newnan defender who was able to return the interception for a touchdown. The Cougars attempted a two-point conversion, but failed.

After the turnover the Panthers faced a 6-0 deficit, but it wouldn’t last long. On the first play of the drive, DeLuca scrambled for a 40-yard touchdown, quickly tying the game 6-6. However, on the extra point, a Cougar defender screamed around the edge and blocked the extra point attempt.

Shelby Foster
The Panther defense lines up against the Newnan offense. The Cougars were held to just 203 total yards while the Panthers racked up 357 yards of their own.

Newnan’s next drive was spearheaded by Parks and sophomore running back Omarion Florence. Parks received the ball on third play of the drive, and took it 34 yards to the Starr’s Mill 38-yard line. Three plays later, Florence rushed 11 yards into the endzone to put the Cougars back on top. This time, Newnan simply kicked the extra point to gain a 13-6 lead.

The Panthers responded quickly once again. This time with a 4-play, 81-yard drive that resulted with Sims taking a handoff 56 yards to the end zone. Once again, the Cougars blocked the extra point. After this score, the Panthers defense switched gears and began to shut down the Newnan offense.

“We switched it up [defensively], and they never noticed,” Cockes said. “We busted them over and over again and it worked out perfectly.”

The following kickoff caused everyone on the Newnan sideline to erupt in celebration as it seemed they would be awarded six points for returning the kick for a touchdown, but a holding penalty brought the Cougars back to their own 4-yard line. After a 2-yard rush from Parks, Wyrick dropped back to pass and saw his receiver running down the sideline. He loaded up and launched a pass in that direction. However, junior safety Sean King picked off the pass and brought the Panther offense back on the field.

The Panthers used the next six plays to march 37 yards into the endzone. After a few runs, DeLuca completed a 29-yard pass to senior Mitch Prowant. Two plays later, Gilley found the end zone for his first score of the night. The Panthers now led 19-13 with 11:56 left in the second quarter.

“It’s hard for teams to practice against what we do [on offense], no one does what we do,” Phillips said. “We have five weapons that can score at any moment.”

The Panther defense once again stopped the Newnan offense, forcing a turnover on downs. However, they gave the ball right back to Cougars after DeLuca fumbled. No damage was done, as after six plays Newnan was forced to punt.

Brown and Gilley made sure the Panthers’ offense didn’t slow down and they led a quick 2-play scoring drive for Starr’s Mill. Brown ran for seven yards on first down, and Gilley followed that run with a 39-yard touchdown run.

After the extra point, the Panthers led 26-13, and the score would remain the same until halftime.

“Our defense kind of settled down and when we stopped them a couple of times, we got confidence,” Phillips said.

Newnan had possession to start the second half, but both teams quickly traded punts. On their next drive, the Cougars offense again failed to move the ball and Wyrick threw his second interception of the night. Two plays later, Gilley scored once again. Now up 33-13, the game seemed in hand.

The Starr’s Mill defense continued to impress, and forced another punt. After a long drive in which the Panthers drained as much clock as possible, sophomore kicker Michael Lantz missed a field goal.

A quick three-and-out ended all hope for Newnan, and with six minutes left in the game, they punted the ball back to Starr’s Mill. Sims’ 34-yard touchdown five plays later put the final points on the board, and the Panthers avenged  last season’s loss with a 40-13 victory.

“This year we prepared a lot better,” Cockes said. “[The game] went even better than we planned.”

Northgate is up next on the schedule for Starr’s Mill, and the Vikings look to beat the Panthers for the third year in a row. Northgate went on the road to open their season. They defeated Veterans handily, 21-3. The Panthers will travel to Northgate on Sept. 1, with kickoff at 7:30 p.m.