Top-ranked Rome ends historic Panther season


Shelby Foster

Rome and Starr’s Mill line up helmet-to-helmet. Rome’s defensive line featured three players committed to Division I universities.

Rilee Stapleton, Editor-in-Chief

Last week, against Bainbridge, the Starr’s Mill Panthers crushed the Bearcats 49-28 to advance to the third round of the AAAAA state playoffs. Senior quarterback Joey DeLuca led the Panther offense to 364 total yards in their blowout win. However, the Mill failed to carry any momentum into their matchup with Rome, who thrashed Starr’s Mill 59-10. Giving up over 500 yards, the Panther defense couldn’t find a way to stop the high scoring offense of Rome.

“We were a little overmatched,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “They’re the defending state champions and they have [multiple] division one football players.”

Shelby Foster
enior running back Mitch Prowant runs through the Wolves’ defense. Prowant had a fantastic senior season, rushing for 823 yards and 12 touchdowns while also hauling in 219 receiving yards.

The Starr’s Mill offense struggled against the tenacious Wolves’ defense. Despite averaging 35 points per game on the season, the Panthers only put 10 points on the scoreboard. Senior running backs Nick Brown, Cole Gilley, and Mitch Prowant were held to a combined 87 rushing yards, despite leading a backfield that averaged 294.5 rushing yards per game. DeLuca threw for over 100 yards for the second game in a row, completing six of 15 passes for 117 yards. Sophomore running back Kalen Sims scored the lone touchdown for Starr’s Mill.

The Panther defense allowed an average of 336.8 total yards per game this season, but that pales in comparison to the 567 Rome gained against the Mill. Junior running back Jamious Griffin ran the ball nine times for 92 yards and three touchdowns. Junior quarterback Knox Kadum put on a dual-threat display with 221 passing yards, 69 rushing yards, and three total touchdowns.

“We’ve had the same group of guys since fifth grade,” Gilley said. “I wouldn’t want to finish it off with anyone else.”

After winning the coin toss, the Panthers elected to receive the opening kickoff. With 16 first quarter touchdowns this year, Starr’s Mill prefers to jump out ahead of their opponents to begin games. However, the offense was forced to punt after seven plays. Rome slowly picked up chunks of yardage on their first five plays before senior fullback Marquez Kirby broke off a 53-yard burst to the end zone. Despite burning the Panther defense, Kirby fumbled the ball out of the end zone, giving Starr’s Mill possession.

After their 27th forced turnover of the season, the Panthers only managed a three-and-out and punted once again. Rome easily moved the ball down the field with making any mistakes this time, scoring on a 5-yard touchdown run from Griffin. The extra point put the Wolves up 7-0 with 2:50 left in the first quarter.

“It gets to a point where their guys are just bigger, faster, and stronger,” Phillips said. “That’s what happens at the high school level.”

Once again Starr’s Mill was forced to punt after only gaining one yard on their next drive. Rome scored 20 seconds later on a 63-yard touchdown pass from Kadum to junior wide receiver Xavier Roberts. The Panthers found themselves in an early 14-0 hole after one quarter.

The Panthers had possession for the first five minutes of the second quarter as they drove 74 yards on 13 plays. However, the Wolves managed to keep the Panthers out of the end zone, forcing junior kicker Michael Lantz to attempt a field goal. From 23 yards out, Lantz drilled the ball through the uprights to finally put Starr’s Mill on the board. The field goal cut the deficit to 11 with just over seven minutes left in the half.

“[Lantz] is a huge weapon for us,” Phillips said. He has a chance to be one of the biggest recruits in Starr’s Mill history.”

Shelby Foster
Sophomore running back Kalen Sims celebrates a touchdown with his teammates. Sims led the Panthers in rushing yards this year with 871 yards, despite being fourth in carries with only 93.

The Wolves’ next series only lasted 53 seconds, but ended similarly to the Panthers’. Rome matched the field goal from Lantz and extended their lead to 17-3 with 6:29 remaining in the second quarter. Down by 14, the Panthers finally put together a touchdown drive.

The Starr’s Mill offense marched 80 yards in only five plays to reach the end zone for the first time on the night. DeLuca opened the drive with a 55-yard run and moments later Sims stumbled into the end zone to bring the Panthers within seven. However, Starr’s Mill fell into a deeper hole as they punted in between two Rome touchdowns before halftime. When the teams went to the locker room, the Wolves boasted a huge 31-10 lead.

“It was a physical mismatch,” Phillips said. “One that we couldn’t overcome.”

Starr’s Mill possessed the ball three times in the third quarter as the offense only gained 17 yards throughout the 12 minutes. Their first drive ended with a blocked punt, and the next two were both punts with one being returned by Rome for a touchdown.

The Wolves physical defense and relentless offense helped them stretch the lead throughout the entire second half. Starr’s Mill only had one possession in the fourth quarter, a lost fumble. After the final 12 minutes dripped off of the clock, Rome walked away with a resounding 59-10 victory over Starr’s Mill.

“[The 2018 class] is one of the best classes in Starr’s Mill history,” Phillips said. They helped us a lot.

As for Rome, their season continues in the state semifinals against Buford. The Wolves of Rome kept on pace against the Mill as they have averaged over 50 points per game this year while only giving up a combined 44 in their last seven matchups. This contest is a rematch from last year’s state championship game in which Rome defeated Buford. Rome hosts Buford on Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m.

For the Panthers, their historic season comes to an end. This year’s team featured 22 seniors who were the second class ever to make the state playoffs in all four of their seasons at the Mill. They also led the Panthers to their first ever back-to-back region championships in school history. Despite playing the same regular season schedule as last year, the Panthers drastically improved from 7-5 a season ago to 11-2 this year. While many key players depart for college, Starr’s Mill will look to move on from the outstanding 2018 class that put the Panthers football program back on the map.