Sims continues to shine, Panthers whip the Wildcats


Katie Linkner

Junior running back Kalen Sims runs the ball against Whitewater. Sims had another tremendous game, totaling 279 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the 49-14 win.

Ben Barkley, Staff Writer

After a shutdown of Griffin 38-6 last week to stay undefeated in the region, the Starr’s Mill varsity football team looked to stay perfect in region play when they traveled up GA-85 to play the winless Whitewater Wildcats. A stellar running attack and an aggressive defense allowed the Panthers to easily defeat the Wildcats 49-14, the most points the Panthers have tallied this season.

“They played really physical,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “Overall, it was a good 48 minutes of football.”

Katie Linkner
Panther wears a number 32 sticker on the back of his helmet. Both teams wore number 32 stickers on the back of their helmets to honor the memory of Pike County high School football player Dylan Thomas, who passed away Sept. 30 after collapsing on the field.

The Panther backfield amassed 467 yards rushing, with 279 of those yards coming from junior runningback Kalen Sims. Sims also scored three times on 20 carries. Junior running back Ben Bodne ran for 63 yards and two touchdowns on six carries. Junior quarterback Hunter Lawson completed two of five passes for 27 yards and six yards on the ground with a touchdown. This game was the second straight game with no turnovers, giving Starr’s Mill its third straight blowout win.

The Wildcats had 246 yards total, which is less than Sims’ total yards on the ground. Senior running back Elijah Roland ran for 131 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and senior running back Adavion Ray ran for 46 yards on four attempts. Sophomore quarterback Austen Millians completed six of his 19 pass attempts for 61 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. The Wildcats brought their punter out numerous times, punting the ball away seven times while the Panthers only punted the ball once.

“I happened to get some great blocks,” Sims said. “I got some great long runs, and I took what they gave me.”

Both teams started the game off slow, with two straight three and outs for both teams. Then the Panthers showed up, attacking Whitewater with multiple deep runs ending with Bodne punching his way into the end zone to make the score 7-0 early in the game.

Another Whitewater three and out resulted in another Panther touchdown, as Sims would break away for a 60-yard run into the endzone to increase the lead to 14-0.

However, Whitewater started to generate some offense as Roland broke free for a deep run, and Millians threw a deep pass to senior wide receiver Jackson Van meter. This run by the Wildcats drew the first quarter to a close with the Panthers on top 14-0.

The second quarter started with a critical defensive stop for the Panthers keeping Whitewater scoreless. The Wildcats punted it away, but the Panther offense started to play sloppy for the next couple of minutes, all capped off with an incomplete deep pass intended for senior wide receiver Sean King. However, penalties started to add up for Starr’s Mill, with four of the six total penalties the Panthers committed in the second quarter. These flags set up Roland for an easy score to put the Wildcats on the board 14-7.

“We need to cut down the penalties,” Sims said. “If we can do that, we can score even more.”

The Panther offense picked right back up where they left off, with Sims running down the sideline for the first score. Right after that score, Bodne forced an interception and on the next play ran right up the middle to move the Panther lead up to 28-7 at the half.

“Defensively, we never gave up a big play,” Phillips said. “We came in with a great plan, and the boys executed.”

The Panthers generated some quick offense to start the third quarter, with Sims and Bodne slowly moving closer to the endzone. This set up junior running back Karsen Kalen with a five yard run into the endzone to make the score 35-7 early in the third quarter. Whitewater did set up a potential score with Ray busting a 35-yard run to get into the red zone. However, the Panther defense stopped the Wildcats four short plays later, forcing short runs and incomplete passes to keep Whitewater locked in at seven.

The Panther offense continued to be unstoppable when Sims busted a 25-yard run for his third and final score of the game to make the score 42-7 with six minutes left in the third quarter quarter. Whitewater finally made the endzone on a fast moving five play drive capped off with a pass from Millains to Van meter to make the score 42-14 with two and a half minutes left in the quarter. The Panthers ended the quarter with Sims bursting runs right through the Wildcat defense to keep the score at 42-14 in favor of Starr’s Mill.

“We worked hard in the weight room, in practice, and in the classroom,” Sims said. “That hard work just payed off.”

Katie Linkner
Junior quarterback Hunter Lawson looks to throw the ball against the Wildcats. Lawson threw for 27 yards in the victory. He also was successful on the ground, scoring a touchdown.

Three quick three and outs, two for the Wildcats and one for the Panthers, chewed up the first four minutes of the final quarter. The Panthers got one more score on the Wildcats after that, as junior quarterback Hunter Lawson ran the ball in himself  to increase the Panther score to 49-14 with eight minutes left in the game.

The Panthers and Wildcats put in their second string teams for the rest of the game, giving the young Panthers a chance to prove themselves under the bright Friday night lights. The Panthers did show some bright spots, especially when freshman quarterback Colin Bartek threw a long, deep pass to sophomore wide receiver Milicah Townson to put the Panthers in the red zone. However, Bartek took two knees to run out the clock, giving the Panthers another big region win 49-14.

“It takes everybody on the field working together to get the job done,” Phillips said. “Both the offense and defense made the engine run.”

Another loss keeps the Wildcats winless at 0-7, with two of the losses coming against region opponents. They won’t be back on the field until Oct. 20 when they face Riverdale (6-1, 2-0).

The Panthers (4-3, 3-0) now extend their region game winning streak to seven games. The Panthers have another must-win region game against rival, the McIntosh Chiefs (2-4, 1-1), who just defeated the Fayette County Tigers 9-6 for their first region win. The Chiefs are seeking a big upset victory to avenge their 36-35 loss last year. However, the Panthers need a win in this game to keep their hopes of a third straight region championship in sight.

The Battle of the Bubble will take place next Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Panther Stadium.