Loyalty in their DNA

Panthers stick to the run game, win home opener against Mt. Zion


Bre Kozusko

Senior running back Kalen Sims drives the ball down the field against Mt. Zion. The Panthers used a strong defense to limit the Bulldogs to only one touchdown, while running the ball constantly on offense.

The laughter of kids running in the bleachers. The smell of grilled hotdogs and hamburgers in the air. That can only mean one thing — Friday Night Lights at Panther Stadium are back. The Panthers, who are looking for revenge after an early first-round playoff exit last season, started things off on the right foot, defeating Mt. Zion 14-8.

“The good thing with us is we tend to get a lot better each week,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “It’s important that we preach that to the kids.”

Bre Kozusko
Student section cheers on the Panthers during the game. The theme for the student section was a gold out in honor of childhood cancer awareness month.

The Panthers made the run game a priority, amassing 179 of their 193 yards on the ground. Senior running back Ben Bodne led the Mill with 98 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown, and senior running back Kalen Sims ran for 63 yards on 12 attempts. From the air, senior quarterback Hunter Lawson completed one of his six passes for 14 yards and an interception. 

Running was also made a priority by the Bulldogs, as senior running back William Burton ran for 137 yards. Senior quarterback Tyjauan Rogers ran for eight yards on two carries and a touchdown. He also completed nine of his 15 passes for 80 yards. 

“We just wanted it more than they did,” Bodne said. “We definitely started executing better in the second half.”

The first quarter opened with four straight three-and-outs, two for each team, as both teams searched for an advantage on the ground.

To counter that, both teams relied on a strong defensive unit, as sophomore Barrett Schmidlkofer and junior Cole Bishop kept the Mt. Zion pass attack at bay. At the end of the first quarter, the teams were locked at 0-0.

The second quarter saw the Bulldog offense improve, as Burton kept on busting deep runs through the Panther defense. However, the deep runs did not translating into scores.

Offensively speaking, the Panthers were still unable to trigger any offense from the ground or the air, keeping the score locked at zero at halftime.

“Our secondary played well against [Mt. Zion’s] passing attack,” coach Phillips said. “They were getting to the point of exhaustion, and that’s when we really attacked.”

The beginning of the third quarter finally saw a score, as senior Owen Phillips recovered an attempted onside kick from the Bulldogs, and ran it 50 yards to the endzone for a Panther touchdown, making the score 7-0. 

Toward the end of the third quarter, the Bulldogs were set up for an easy score, as Burton intercepted a Lawson pass as time expired, keeping the score at 7-0.

“We need to improve on our offensive line a lot,” Phillips said. “We had trouble running certain plays, but next week we’re gonna come out fighting.”

We just wanted it more than they did…We definitely started executing better in the second half.

— senior Ben Bodne

Mt. Zion started the fourth quarter off with a bang, as Burton found his way into the end zone to put the Bulldogs on the board. Rogers then found junior Montrail Freeman on a two-point conversion, giving them the lead 8-7.

The two sides went back and forth after that, with no team really gaining the upper hand offensively. Toward the end of the fourth quarter, the Mill found the end zone once more, as Bodne punched his way into the end zone to increase the Panther lead to 14-8.

Starr’s Mill recovered the ensuing kickoff, giving the team excellent field position and a chance to increase the lead late in the game. However, once the team reached the red zone, Lawson took a knee, giving the Mill a 14-8 victory.

“We had a long halftime talk about our offense,” Bodne said. “Our coaching staff did a nice job telling us how to pick it up and what to do.”

The Panthers defended Panther Stadium with a victory in their opening game, but their next matchup will not be an easy feat. The Northgate Vikings, who are coming off a 27-13 loss to Newnan, looks to beat Starr’s Mill for the third time in four years, while the Panthers are looking for revenge after blowing a 13-point lead and losing 31-29 last season.

Game time is set for 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 6 at Northgate High School.