It ain’t over ‘til it’s over

Panthers pull off victory in overtime thriller, recapture region lead


Chris Dunn /

Senior Kalen Sims looks to break through Riverdale defenders for a big gain. Sims had another tremendous game on the ground, rushing for 150 yards and three touchdowns in the win.

Ben Barkley, Sports Editor

Many people thought Riverdale was going to run through Starr’s Mill and clinch the region championship. However, the Panthers proved why they are the best team in the region, using overtime to defeat the Raiders 42-41.

Chris Dunn /
Senior Christian Castillo nails a PAT. Castillo won the game for the Panthers with a PAT in overtime.

“I knew that if we could get to overtime, we would be more ready than [Riverdale],” head coach  Chad Phillips said. “I’m just so proud of the way the boys fought tonight.”

The Panthers amassed 318 total yards, 150 of them coming from senior Kalen Sims, who also totaled three touchdowns. Senior Ben Bodne totaled 97 yards and a touchdown. Senior Hunter Lawson ran for 17 yards and a touchdown, and threw for 29 yards and a touchdown. 

Riverdale beat the Panthers in yardage, totaling 329 yards. Leading the way was senior Pahalon Daniels, who ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Derwin Burgess Jr. ran for 45 yards and a touchdown. In the passing game, senior Avaun Rucker threw for 106 yards and two touchdowns.

“We started off a little shaky,” Sims said. “But then coach came in the locker room at halftime, told us what we needed to do, and we executed.”

The first quarter started off strong for the Panthers in what was an offensive minded quarter, as junior Wes Haney opened the quarter with a big return to the 50-yard line. Three minutes later, Bodne punched his way into the end zone to make the score 7-0 early.

The Raider offense was also on fire to start the game, as Daniels ran 17 yards for a score to tie the game. Starr’s Mill answered right back, as Lawson found junior Cole Bishop on a 16-yard pass into the endzone to retake the lead 14-7.

Riverdale got the last laugh in the quarter, as Burgess ran 45 yards for a touchdown as time expired, making the score tied at 14 at the end of the first quarter.

“This win feels awesome,” Lawson said. “It really gives us a leg up in the race for the region title.”

[C]oach came in the locker room at halftime, told us what we needed to do, and we executed.”

— senior running back Kalen Sims

Starr’s Mill started the second quarter with the ball, eating up seven minutes in what turned into a turnover on downs. However, the Panther defense kept the Raider offense at bay, allowing the Panthers to get the ball back.

Shortly after, Sims found the endzone on a five-yard run to make the score 21-14. Things turned sloppy for Riverdale as they fumbled the ball on the kickoff, allowing Starr’s Mill to get the ball back. However, the Panthers did not capitalize as they punted the ball away.

The game turned defensive-minded after that, until Rucker found senior Tremain Moore for a 14-yard touchdown pass, tying the score at 21 at halftime.

“That was a great life lesson we learned in this victory,” Phillips said. “It’s going to get tough, but we persevered through it.”

Offense was back to being prominent as the second half got underway, with Lawson running in a four-yard touchdown for himself to make the score 28-21. The Raiders answered back quickly, as Daniels found the endzone on a 16-yard run for his second touchdown of the game to tie the score at 28.

On the next play for Starr’s Mill, Lawson threw an interception that was returned to about the 20-yard line, setting up another score by junior Malik Harris off an 11-yard pass from Rucker, giving the Raiders the lead 35-28 at the end of the third quarter.

“I knew we had it in us the whole time,” Lawson said. “I knew that if it was going to go down to overtime, we were the ones that were gonna come out on top.”

The Panthers found the endzone fast to start the fourth quarter, as Sims used his speed on a seven-yard touchdown run to tie the score at 35. 

Things looked up for Starr’s Mill, as they recovered an onside kick to possibly set up the game-winning score. However, Sims fumbled on the next play, giving the ball back to the Raiders.

Riverdale marched down the field and was in field goal range. However, three straight timeouts by the Panthers iced senior kicker Mario Vega, as he missed wide left. This ended regulation tied at 35.

The Raiders started with the ball, and junior Fredrick Collins III found the endzone from seven yards out. However, Vega missed the extra point wide left, making the score 41-35.

Starr’s Mill had one last chance, and Sims made the most of it, finding the endzone on a short two-yard run for his third and final touchdown of the game. Senior Christian Castillo made the game winning PAT shortly after, giving the Panthers a huge 42-41 victory.

“At the end of the day, we are going to give it our all 100 percent of the time,” Sims said. “That’s bigger than anything. We are brothers.”

This loss gives the Raiders a 7-2 record, with a 4-1 region record. They end the regular season against Griffin next week in a game that will decide the No. 2 seed for the state playoffs.

Starr’s Mill now boasts a 6-3 record, with a 4-1 region record. They will finish off their season on senior night against Fayette County High School. A win gives Starr’s Mill its fourth straight Region 3-AAAAA championship.  

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 8.