Panthers narrowly escape Dutchtown in first round

Senior+running+back+Nick+Brown+races+past+the+Dutchtown+defense.+Brown+rushed+for+46+yards+and+a+touchdown%2C+and+also+broke+off+an+89-yard+kickoff+return.+
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Panthers narrowly escape Dutchtown in first round

Senior running back Nick Brown races past the Dutchtown defense. Brown rushed for 46 yards and a touchdown, and also broke off an 89-yard kickoff return.

Senior running back Nick Brown races past the Dutchtown defense. Brown rushed for 46 yards and a touchdown, and also broke off an 89-yard kickoff return.

Shelby Foster

Senior running back Nick Brown races past the Dutchtown defense. Brown rushed for 46 yards and a touchdown, and also broke off an 89-yard kickoff return.

Shelby Foster

Shelby Foster

Senior running back Nick Brown races past the Dutchtown defense. Brown rushed for 46 yards and a touchdown, and also broke off an 89-yard kickoff return.

Rilee Stapleton, Editor-in-Chief

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Nothing was going to prevent the Panthers from beating Dutchtown on Friday. The enormous senior class on the Starr’s Mill football team made every play necessary to avoid a first round exit in their last season at the Mill. The Bulldogs competed and pushed the Panthers until the final second ticked off of the clock, but Starr’s Mill defeated Dutchtown 31-28 in a highly competitive first-round matchup.

“We ran the ball well,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “And that was a very good defense we were running the ball against.”

Shelby Foster
Senior quarterback Joey DeLuca hands off to sophomore running back Kalen Sims. DeLuca, who doesn’t normally throw many passes, threw two touchdowns to lead the Panthers past the Bulldogs.

The Panthers aren’t known for their passing offense, only averaging 62.4 passing yards per game. Furthermore, senior quarterback Joey DeLuca only had three passing touchdowns on the season before the matchup with Dutchtown. However, DeLuca completed three of his four passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Backed by a balanced running attack from seniors Cole Gilley, Nick Brown, and Mitch Prowant, the Panthers put up 31 points despite only totaling 278 yards.

Dutchtown picked 351 total yards on offense, but failed to top the No. 1 seed Panthers. Freshman quarterback Arendez Fedd threw 13 passes, completing 10 of them for 108 yards. His favorite receiver was senior Nolan Gomes, who had four catches for 72 yards. Senior running back Chris Joyce rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns on five carries for the Bulldogs. Junior free safety Ja’shaun Poke made the special teams play of the game with a 99-yard kick return touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“Our run game is spectacular,” senior wide receiver Brandon Rew said. “Our running backs are the best in the county.”

Starr’s Mill looked to prove that statement, running the ball nine consecutive times on the opening drive. The drive included an 18-yard dash from Prowant that put the Panthers on the Bulldogs’ five yard line. Brown then finished off the drive on the next play with a 5-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers an early 7-0 lead. Dutchtown responded with a 4-play drive that featured a 27-yard scramble from Fedd, followed by a 37-yard touchdown run from Joyce. The quick series knotted the score at 7-7 halfway through the first quarter.

Brown answered Dutchtown’s quick score with an 89-yard kickoff return to the Bulldogs’ 7-yard line. Four plays later, sophomore running back Kalen Sims scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, putting the Panthers back on top 14-7. Dutchtown answered the call once again on their next drive. After many short runs and quick passes, Joyce broke off a 21-yard run to the Panther 1-yard line. Starr’s Mill almost made a goal-line stand, but Dutchtown scored on third-and-goal to tie the game at 14.

Shelby Foster
Senior linebacker Ryan Cockes brings down senior Dutchtown running back Chris Joyce. Joyce torched the Panther defense for 134 yards and two touchdowns on just five carries.

“It was a back-and-forth game,” Rew said. “It was [back-and-forth] all night long.”

The Panther offense failed to score on the next drive, and punted the ball to Dutchtown after a three-and-out. The Bulldogs then opened the second quarter with a 14-play, 77-yard drive that lasted seven minutes. The highlight of the drive was a 39-yard completion from Fedd to Gomes, but penalties kept Dutchtown out of the endzone. They eventually lined up for a field goal, but senior Panther defensive end Coltin Houser blocked the kick to keep the score even at 14-14.

Both teams traded punts to end the half and went to the locker room with the score tied. Dutchtown outgained Starr’s Mill 202-85 in the first half, but never managed to take the lead on a Panther defense that has tightened up in the second half of every game this season.

“[At halftime], we decided from then on we would just play for each other and give all glory to God,” DeLuca said. “And that’s exactly what we did.”

The third quarter began with each team trading turnovers, as the Bulldogs fumbled on the first possession of the half, only for the Panthers to fumble four plays later. Dutchtown then turned the ball over on downs after an 8-play series only went 16 yards. After getting the ball back, the Panthers marched 63 yards in 13 plays, but had to settle for a field goal. Junior kicker Michael Lantz made the field goal, but made a mistake on the kickoff. Lantz kicked the ball to Poke, who bolted 99-yards down the field to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the night, 21-17.

The Panthers offense returned to field with just over nine minutes left in the game, and finally put together another touchdown drive. Once again, Brown set up the Panthers with a good return, and the series began on the Starr’s Mill 44-yard line. After 13 short runs, DeLuca dropped back and connected with senior tight end Charlie Mizzell for a 22-yard touchdown. The Panthers recaptured the lead 24-21, but the defense failed to hold the lead. On just the second play of the next series, Joyce exploded out of the backfield for a 61-yard touchdown. Down by four points, the Panthers had 3:19 left on the clock to make a game-winning drive.

“We were down twice in the fourth quarter […] but we never gave up,” Phillips said. “In anybody’s life, if you’re willing to keep grinding away and keep fighting, you have a chance to be successful. That’s what I told [the players].”

The Panthers kept on fighting. They had to cover 60 yards in three minutes if they wanted to win the game. And they did just that. DeLuca was tackled for a 3-yard loss on the first play of the drive, and Gilley only picked up two yards on the next play. Faced with third-and-eleven, DeLuca dropped back and fired a pass to Prowant for 17 yards. The Bulldog defense was nervous, and jumped offsides on the next play. The Panthers took the free five yards and picked up three more on the fifth play of the drive. On the sixth play, however, DeLuca dropped back to pass once again, and arched a beautiful rainbow pass to Rew, who hauled in the 36-yard touchdown pass with 49 seconds left on the clock.

“When I threw it, I thought it was going out of bounds,” DeLuca said. “For [Rew] to make a catch like that, that was stellar.”

Up 31-28, the Panther defense had to hold on for one last drive. On first down, Fedd threw a pass for Gomes that fell incomplete. Fedd then connected on second down for a 7-yard gain. On third down, Fedd couldn’t find any receivers and was sacked.

Fourth down and six, with the game on the line, Fedd dropped back to pass once more, and fired a pass toward the Dutchtown sideline. But before the ball could get to the receiver, senior linebacker Cockes jumped in front of the pass and swatted the ball to the turf, giving the Panthers a 31-28 victory.

“We pass when we have to, and we had to,” Phillips said.

Dutchtown’s season ended in Panther Stadium, but the Bulldogs 7-4 record is nothing to be ashamed of. As for the Panthers, they match up against Bainbridge in the second round of the state playoffs. The Bearcats boast an 8-3 record and are coming off of a 48-6 win over New Hampstead in their first round game.

Bainbridge has never lost to a Fayette County team in Fayette County, handing former NFL star Calvin Johnson the last loss of his high school career at Sandy Creek, and current NFL cornerback Brandon Boykin the last loss of his high school playing time at Fayette County. However, the Bearcats have never played Starr’s Mill, and the Panthers are looking to be the first Fayette County team to bring down the Decatur County school. The two schools play on Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in Panther Stadium.