Flags, fumbles, and a field goal

Panthers fall to Griffin in a heartbreaker

Senior+defensive+end+Coltin+Houser+swings+down+a+Griffin+player.+Houser+constantly+disrupted+the+Bears%E2%80%99+offense+before+leaving+the+game+with+an+injury.

Shelby Foster

Senior defensive end Coltin Houser swings down a Griffin player. Houser constantly disrupted the Bears’ offense before leaving the game with an injury.

Rilee Stapleton, Editor-in-Chief

The top two teams in the region went head-to-head on Friday night. The matchup lived up to the hype it received as the game came down to the final play. Starr’s Mill had the win lined up, but junior kicker Michael Lantz pulled the potential game winning field goal left of the uprights, giving the Griffin Bears a 29-28 victory.

“I think we all played pretty tough,” senior quarterback Joey DeLuca said. “A lot of us got banged up pretty badly, but we all kept playing.”

Shelby Foster
Senior quarterback Joey DeLuca calls a play in the huddle. DeLuca had possibly the best passing game of his career against Griffin, throwing for 103 yards on just eight attempts.

The Panthers were already playing without senior linebacker Ryan Cockes and junior defensive back Carson Walter, two of the biggest pieces of their defense. Seniors Cole Gilley, who already missed one game this year due to injury, and Coltin Houser left the game early after being injured.

Through all of the injuries, sophomore Kalen Sims stepped up and led the Panther offense, while the defense forced multiple turnovers in an effort to make up for missing Panthers. Sims ran for 116 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, while the players on the other side of the ball recorded two interceptions and a fumble recovery.

Senior quarterback Avious Nelson completed 13 of his 17 pass attempts for the Bears, totaling 228 yards and three touchdowns, along with one interception. His favorite target was senior wide receiver Shondarius Mays, who caught eight passes for 184 yards, and all three of Nelson’s touchdown passes.

“One of our goals each week is to win the ‘time of possession’,” DeLuca said. “We have done that almost every week because our defense can make stops or force turnovers.”

The Panthers had possession first, but neither team did anything on the first four drives of the game. It was not until the fifth drive, the third Starr’s Mill series, that the ball began to move.

The drive began on the Griffin 24-yard line, as the Panthers blocked the Bears’ punt on the play before. The Panthers followed the great special teams play with seven consecutive runs, the final one being a handoff to senior Mitch Prowant, who scored from a yard out. Lantz put the PAT through the uprights to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead with 10:31 left in the second quarter.

Shelby Foster
Head coach Chad Phillips signals for a touchdown. Phillips watched while his team struggled to close out the Bears in the fourth quarter.

The next Griffin drive was interrupted by an interception from sophomore Hunter Lawson. After a pass from Nelson was tipped, Lawson dove to the ground and scooped up the interception to set the Panthers up at the Griffin 28-yard line. Two plays later, Sims took a handoff from DeLuca and bolted to the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown, extending the Panther lead to 14-0.

“The blocked punt and turnovers were huge plays that our offense must turn into points,” Phillips said.

Down two scores, the Bears needed to respond before the deficit became permanent. Respond they did, with a 15-play, 80-yard drive. The Griffin offense mixed in multiple run and pass plays on the drive, but the last play of the series saw Nelson connect with Mays for the first Griffin score of the night. However, the score remained 14-6 after the Bears missed the extra point attempt.

Starr’s Mill was unable to do anything with the final possession of the half, and ran the clock out, taking a 14-6 lead to the locker room.

“Griffin has the most athletic defense we’ve seen all year,” Phillips said. “They completely stacked the box so we had to make adjustments on offense.”

Starr’s Mill’s offense was on the field to start the second half, and they looked to extend their lead. The drive lasted 12 plays, and the Panthers marched 80-yards to the end zone. Despite having three penalties called on them during the drive, Starr’s Mill still found a way to score. Once again, Prowant capped off the drive with a short touchdown run, increasing the Panther lead to 21-6.

Following the score, both teams traded punts. Griffin then began to move the ball, and move it rather quickly. They stormed 80-yards in three plays, despite the drive starting with a sack. Two plays after the sack, however, Nelson and Mays hooked up for an 87-yard touchdown pass. This time, the Bears tried and converted a two-point attempt, closing the gap to seven points with 11:43 left in the game.

We just failed to get the knockout blow on both sides despite numerous opportunities.”

— head coach Chad Phillips

The Panthers fumbled the subsequent kickoff, and Griffin recovered on the Starr’s Mill 25-yard line. Three plays later Nelson again found Mays for the touchdown that tied the game at 21.

“The defense played well enough to win,” Phillips said. “We just failed to get the knockout blow on both sides despite numerous opportunities.”

The Panthers then responded with a 5-play, 83-yard drive, in which they recovered the lead. Sims scored from 16-yards out to put the Mill up 28-21. The ensuing Griffin drive did not last long, as they fumbled and the Panthers recovered. However, the Bears defense made a crucial stop and forced Starr’s Mill to punt.

Griffin had one final chance to stay alive and only 33 yards to go. They covered those 33 yards in eight plays, scoring a rushing touchdown. However, they were not looking to tie the game and play for overtime. They wanted to win. The Bears lined up for a two-point conversion, and their first attempt failed. However, a penalty on Starr’s Mill gave them another shot. This time, Griffin converted and took a 29-28 lead with just under two minutes remaining.

Starr’s Mill marched all the way down the field and found themselves in field goal range with one chance to win the game. Lantz was coming off a game in which he converted a 50-yard field goal, breaking the Starr’s Mill school record. However, this attempt was just 22 yards out. Lantz lined up the kick, but barely missed as the ball was left of the uprights.

“We competed until the final play,” Phillips said. “Several major mistakes and some very untimely penalties led to a fourth quarter meltdown.”

The Bears have yet to lose an away game, as they are 4-0 on the road this year. They look to continue that success as they travel to Morrow for their next contest. The Mustangs hope to end their three game losing streak and upset Griffin, while the Bears seek to extend their string of wins.

As for the Panthers, revenge is on their mind as they host Whitewater this Friday. The Wildcats won a thriller last season in questionable fashion, but Starr’s Mill does not plan on leaving anything to question this year. The Wildcats are coming off of a 42-26 win over Morrow and want the first seed in the region. The duel kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Panther Stadium.

“We just have to take this loss as a learning opportunity,” DeLuca said. “All of us know the school that’s coming to our place on Friday and we owe them something we didn’t get to finish last year.”