Horns down

Lawson shines, defense stands strong as Panthers advance to Elite 8 with 45-28 win


Annika Pepper

Sophomore Barrett Schmidlkofer tackles an opposing Longhorn. The Panther defense played one of their best games all season, only allowing 361 total yards in the 45-28 victory.

Ben Barkley, Sports Editor

Many people favored Kell to win over the Panthers in a much anticipated round two matchup. However, Kell soon realized what it means to play in Panther Stadium. A lock-down defense mixed in with a dual threat offense paid off in a 45-28 victory.

Our whole rally cry this week was ‘find a way’ and they found a way tonight.”

— head coach Chad Phillips

“I thought we played very well on defense,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “Our whole rally cry this week was ‘find a way’ and they found a way tonight.”

Starr’s Mill played one of their best games of the season, posting a season high 507 total yards. Senior Hunter Lawson led the way, rushing for a season-high 200 yards and three touchdowns and throwing for 97 yards. 

Senior Ben Bodne added 89 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Junior Cole Bishop caught three passes for 136 yards and a touchdown.

Despite 361 total yards, Kell struggled to generate momentum on both sides of the ball. Junior Corbin Lafrance threw for 243 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Junior Jamal Hill caught five passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. 

“This is a great win,” Lawson said. “Hat’s off to everybody on the team. We all played our hearts out and it came together really nicely.”

The Panther defense started the game out strong with a quick three and out, setting the offense up with great field advantage. However, Starr’s Mill did not capitalize as junior Connor Marke missed a 20-yard field goal.

Annika Pepper
Senior Hunter Lawson breaks free and looks to score. Lawson had a great game on both sides of the ball, rushing for 200 yards and three touchdowns and passing for 97 yards.

Slow offensive play continued, but the Panthers did generate some offense toward the end of the quarter, keeping the score locked at zero at the end of the first quarter.

Bodne started the second quarter off with a bang, punching his way into the endzone on an eight-yard run to make the score 7-0. However, Kell started to generate some offense as well as Mccritty found the endzone off a 42-yard pass from Lafrance, tying the score at seven.

Starr’s Mill did not give up on the offensive side of the ball, and after a fumbled punt that gave the Panthers the ball back, Lawson kept one for himself on a one-yard touchdown run, regaining the lead 14-7. Just when you thought Lawson was done with running the ball, he busted an 83-yard run on the next drive, increasing the lead to 21-7.

“I’m gonna be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever played that good a game ever,” Lawson said. “The chips fell in our way. The plays were there and I made them.”

Kell continued to struggle as Lafrance threw an interception to junior Nate Kearns to give the Panthers the ball back. They settled for a 20-yard field goal by senior Christian Castillo as time expired in the second quarter, giving Starr’s Mill a 24-7 lead heading to the locker room.

“I know what this team has worked for,” Bodne said. “I knew from the very beginning that we could beat this team so it feels amazing.”

Kell was put in a strange position as they thought that Starr’s Mill was going to be a pushover team. They had a lot to talk about at halftime.  

The Longhorns took advantage to begin the second half as junior Tyler Barrett scored from 18 yards out to decrease the Panther lead to 24-14. Kell did not stop there as junior Jamal Hill scored off a 92-yard pass from Lafrance to decrease the lead to 24-21 at the end of the third.

[The defense] made all the stops we needed them to make and they really carried the load in the first half.”

— senior Ben Bodne

“We knew [Kell] would come out and make some adjustments,” defensive coordinator Jeff Schmidlkofer said. “We knew that if the offense kept rolling and we got some key stops we were gonna be alright.”

Starr’s Mill picked up their game in the fourth quarter, getting a clutch stop on defense and another Lawson score for himself on an 84-yard run to increase the lead to 31-21. 

The action did not stop there as the Panther defense forced a turnover on downs and Bodne found his way into the endzone for a second time to make the score 38-21 Starr’s Mill.

Kell had one more chance as senior Arthur Nwandu scored off a 15-yard pass from Lafrance to make the score 38-28. However, a failed onside kick recovery was the final nail in the coffin for the Longhorns. 

The Panthers did score one last time as junior Gavin Necessary faked a punt and found junior Cole Bishop in the end zone to make the final score 45-28. 

“The defense played outstanding,” Bodne said. “They made all the stops we needed them to make and they really carried the load in the first half.”

Starr’s Mill now moves on to the elite eight for the first time since 2017. They will play next Friday in Panther Stadium against Dutchtown, the No. 2 seed from Region 4-AAAAA. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.