Student section cheers on the Panther football team. “Gameday Takeaways” provides analysis of the most recent Friday Night Lights game, while also talking about key players that made the final score of the game possible. (Bekah Algaze)
Student section cheers on the Panther football team. “Gameday Takeaways” provides analysis of the most recent Friday Night Lights game, while also talking about key players that made the final score of the game possible.

Bekah Algaze

Gameday Takeaways

Region play

November 25, 2019

Students crowding into Panther Stadium. The smell of freshly grilled hot dogs in the air. The hooting and hollering of fans. That can only mean one thing — Friday Night Lights.

“Friday Night Lights sets the culture for this school,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “[Friday Night Lights] translates into the other sports, into the classroom, and it drives the culture of this school.”

You already know the final score of the big game. But what about the action that made that final score possible? This year, The Prowler looks to do just that, recapping big storylines and key players that made the result of the game what it was. 

“Friday nights are everything. Football is America’s favorite sport, and you see it in its purest form at the high school level,” Fayette County News Sports Editor Chris Dun said. “It’s about love of the game, not million dollar contracts and shoe endorsements. And it wouldn’t be complete without cheerleaders and marching bands. They make the whole package electric. There’s just nothing else like it.”

Be sure to check back weekly for key players and analysis from every game.

Panther+football+team+raises+their+helmets+in+celebration+after+the+win.+Starr%E2%80%99s+Mill+used+a+dominant+offense+and+a+lockdown+defense+to+defeat+Fayette+County+49-7+en+route+to+winning+their+fourth-straight+region+championship.

Bre Kozusko

Panther football team raises their helmets in celebration after the win. Starr’s Mill used a dominant offense and a lockdown defense to defeat Fayette County 49-7 en route to winning their fourth-straight region championship.

Gameday Takeaways, Week 10

Three notes after historic victory

Last week, the Panthers returned home to Panther stadium to take on the 2-7 Fayette County High School Tigers. A dominant offense mixed in with a lock-down defense allowed the Panthers to win 49-7. Here are three notes from the contest.

  1. History has been made

This win gives the Panthers their historic fourth-straight region championship. It also ties them with Sandy Creek for the most overall region championships in county history. 

Starr’s Mill has worked hard for this, and despite an early region loss to Jonesboro, the team battled back, winning two close battles against Griffin and Riverdale to retake control of the region and ultimately raised the trophy high in the end.

  1. Second 1,000-yard season for Sims

Senior Kalen Sims has had a solid last two seasons with the team. His last regular season game saw him rush for 100 yards and a touchdown. 

However, his performance also gave him his second consecutive season of 1,000 or more rushing yards. Despite his slow start through the first four games, Sims rallied and proved that he is one of the best backs in the region, using an amazing offensive line to his advantage.

“I’m grateful for another 1,000 plus yard season,” Sims said. “I give all the credit to my offensive line and the coaching staff, because if it wasn’t for them, I would have none of those 1,000 yards.”

  1. Team proved how deep they can be

This win over the Tigers saw something that no one has seen this season for the Panther offense — seven touchdowns scored by seven different players.

Stats like this prove that the team has a valuable future with multiple young players that have proven to be bright spots on the offense, including sophomore Brandon Mathis. 

Mathis ran for 252 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns as the third back in a stacked rotation. Look for him to take over as the lead back next year, and look for a breakout.

What to watch for this week

The state playoffs start this Friday, and the Panthers drew the Harris County High School Tigers, the No. 4 seed from Region 1-AAAAA. 

Of course, we all know what happened last year in the first round. However, the Panthers learned from that loss that they should never take an opponent for granted, so look for this team to fire on all cylinders and move on to the second round.

Starr’s Mill takes the field this Friday in Panther Stadium against Harris County. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

Senior+Jeff+Tiller+blocks+an+opposing+Raider.+The+Panther+offensive+line+had+another+outstanding+game%2C+blocking+well+and+allowing+the+backs+to+accumulate+289+rushing+yards.

Chris Dunn / cdphotography23.com

Senior Jeff Tiller blocks an opposing Raider. The Panther offensive line had another outstanding game, blocking well and allowing the backs to accumulate 289 rushing yards.

Gameday Takeaways, Week 9

Three notes after overtime thriller

Last week, the Panthers traveled to Riverdale to take on the 6-1 Riverdale Raiders. This game had big implications, and the Panthers stepped up to the challenge, using overtime to defeat the Raiders 42-41. Here are three notes from the contest.

  1. Battle of high-powered offenses

Riverdale and Starr’s Mill are easily the two best offensive teams in the region this year, and this game proved it. One of the highest scoring games this season, both teams used offense to their advantage, moving down the field with efficiency and success.

However, the Panthers had more fire in their engines, totaling 289 rushing yards and looking like the better team throughout the close contest. Once overtime came, everyone in the stadium knew that this was Starr’s Mill’s game, and they proved it.

  1. Offensive line = secret weapon

People never hear much about the offensive line, but the Panther line is getting less credit than they deserve. Spearheaded by senior Jeff Tiller, the line has consistently done its job in allowing the backs to rush for over 200 yards in each of the team’s last five games.

The good news for the line is that it only consists of two seniors — Tiller and Jaxon Via. Juniors Joseph Rampey, Dalton Koth, and Cole Sanders all return next season, giving the line plenty of experience, and surefire success for next season.

  1. Riverdale kicker struggled mightily

It was a bad night for senior kicker Mario Vega, as he missed two important kicks that would have given the Raiders the lead and possibly the win. 

First, Vega had an easy chip shot game-winning field goal. However, three straight timeouts by Starr’s Mill head coach Phillips iced him down to his veins as he missed it wide left and caused the game to go to overtime.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then missed a PAT wide left that allowed the Panthers to secure the win after senior Christian Castillo easily drilled it through the uprights. 

What to watch for this week

The Panthers finish off the regular season this Friday back in Panther Stadium against the Fayette County High School Tigers. Fayette County shocked a lot of people when they got two wins in non-region play. However, they have gone winless in region and are proving that they still have a long way to go.

A win for the Panthers gives them their history-making fourth straight region championship and a number one seed in the state playoffs. 

This Friday is senior night, where seniors of the football team, cheerleading squad, marching band, color guard, and dance team will be honored for all of their accomplishments over the last four years.

Starr’s Mill returns to take on the Tigers this Friday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

The+defensive+line+gets+ready+for+their+next+play.+Starr%E2%80%99s+Mill+had+their+best+defensive+game+all+season+against+the+Chiefs%2C+only+allowing+89+total+yards+and+producing+five+sacks.

Annika Pepper

The defensive line gets ready for their next play. Starr’s Mill had their best defensive game all season against the Chiefs, only allowing 89 total yards and producing five sacks.

Gameday Takeaways, Week 8

Three notes from blowout rivalry game

Last week, the Panthers made the short drive to McIntosh to take on the Chiefs in the Battle of the Bubble. Starr’s Mill kept control throughout the entire game, shutting out the Chiefs 34-0. Here are three notes from the contest.

  1. Defense wins championships

Defensively, the Panthers have proved themselves all season long, including a shutout of Northgate, and holding Sandy Creek to just 28 points. However, last week was the best defensive game the team has had all season.

Starr’s Mill held the Chiefs to just 89 total yards, and sacked sophomore quarterback Hayes Herzog five times, their highest sack total all season. 

Despite Whitewater getting a fluke win against Jonesboro, and McIntosh barely beating Fayette County, both teams have struggled mightily all season. ”

— Sports Editor Ben Barkley

With leaders such as juniors Cole Bishop, Wes Haney, and senior Ardit Hoti among others, this defense has found their groove and will continue to dominate for the rest of the season.

  1. Win proves rest of the county is weak

In the last two games, Starr’s Mill has crushed the Chiefs and Whitewater with a combined score of 76-3. This proves that besides the Panthers, the rest of the county is quite weak.

Despite Whitewater getting a fluke win against Jonesboro, and McIntosh barely beating Fayette County, both teams have struggled mightily all season. 

After winning two non-region games, the Tigers have gone winless to start the region schedule, proving that the Tigers still have growing pains.

  1. Multiple weapons in the offense

Switching over to offense, the Panthers have proven that they have a plethora of weapons with which to choose from. 

Seniors Kalen Sims and Ben Bodne have established themselves as the top targets, but besides them, senior Karsen Kalen, sophomore Brandon Mathis, and senior Owen Phillips have proven that they can add to an already stellar offense.

What to watch for this week

After the bye week, the Panthers have another tough task ahead of them as they face off against the 6-1 Riverdale Raiders. The Raiders are the only unbeaten team in the region left, and this game will determine the winner of the region championship.

Starr’s Mill needs to play just like they did against McIntosh — powerful offense plus a dominant defense in order to put the Raiders down and clinch history with their fourth straight region championship.

The Panthers travel to Tara Stadium to take on the Raiders next week. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. 

Junior+Cole+Bishop+gets+tackled+after+an+interception.+Bishop+led+the+Panther+secondary+in+the+win+over+the+Wildcats%2C+forcing+three+of+the+teams+four+interceptions.+

Annika Pepper

Junior Cole Bishop gets tackled after an interception. Bishop led the Panther secondary in the win over the Wildcats, forcing three of the teams four interceptions.

Gameday Takeaways, Week 7

Three notes from dominant Panther win

Last week, the Panthers continued their string of region games with a contest against the Whitewater Wildcats. Starr’s Mill went right on the attack from the opening drive and never looked back, winning 42-3. Here are three notes from a dominating performance.

  1. Sims, Bodne combo is hard to stop

Throughout the season, seniors Kalen Sims and Ben Bodne have each had their fair share of great games. Opposing defenses struggle when they have to deal with Sims’ speed and Bodne’s power. So far, Sims has rushed for 716 yards and three touchdowns, while Bodne has rushed for 566 yards and 11 touchdowns. 

A defense that can succeed in the run and pass game will give the Panthers a nice easy ride through the rest of the region opponents.”

— Sports Editor Ben Barkley

In the last two games, both of them have hit it off at the same time, making a powerful 1-2 punch that makes opposing defenses struggle. Look for more of the same as they face off against three weak defenses to end the regular season.

  1. Secondary putting the pass game on lockdown

Defense has been a top priority for the Panthers, and they have proven that they can stop the run easily. However, the secondary unit has stepped up in a big way.

Last week against Whitewater, they forced four interceptions, three of which came from junior Cole Bishop. That performance gives the team 10 total interceptions, which is already more than last year’s total for the season. 

A defense that can succeed in the run and pass game will give the Panthers a nice easy ride through the rest of the region opponents.

  1. Whitewater struggles are real

Whitewater has struggled the last two seasons, only winning two games in that span. From an offense that was only able to produce 128 yards, to four interceptions from quarterbacks Austin Williams and Maddox Mueller, the offense has been struggling to get points on the board.

As if an under-performing offense wasn’t enough, the Wildcat defense allowed 430 yards from the Panthers, 280 of which came from Sims and Bodne. A change needs to be made within Wildcat football. And fast.

What to watch for this week

The rivalry is set. This Friday, the Panthers make the short trip up Robinson Road to take on the team in green and white. The McIntosh Chiefs are in a similar situation to the Wildcats, as they have struggled on the offensive end of the ball. However, sophomore Hayes Herzog has made some big plays, and is fun to watch.

Defensively, going up against a Panther offense that’s coming off a 430-yard performance doesn’t help, as the Panthers just have too much momentum for the Chiefs to stop. Despite a win in exciting fashion against Fayette County, that may be their only victory in the region this season.

Starr’s Mill takes on McIntosh in the Battle of the Bubble this Friday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

Senior+Kalen+Sims+runs+the+ball+against+Griffin.+Sims+returned+to+his+former+self+against+the+Bears%2C+rushing+for+195+yards+on+28+carries+and+a+touchdown.

Annika Pepper

Senior Kalen Sims runs the ball against Griffin. Sims returned to his former self against the Bears, rushing for 195 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown.

Gameday Takeaways, Week 6

Three notes following a big-time region contest

Last week, the Panthers returned to Panther Stadium to take on the Griffin High School Bears. Griffin, who was undefeated and ranked 10th in the state prior to the game, were heavy favorites to win the region. However, Starr’s Mill proved why they have been one of the best in the region, winning 38-35. Here are three notes from the contest.

  1. I was wrong

Yes. You read that right. When I predicted how Region 3-AAAA would play out, I was wrong for two reasons. One, the Panthers are still clearly contenders in the region, and that point was proven against Griffin. Two, Whitewater may be a little better than expected. 

[T]he Panthers are still clearly contenders in the region, and that point was proven against Griffin.”

— Sports Editor Ben Barkley

Revenge was on the Panthers’ mind following their loss to Jonesboro. They proved all the naysayers wrong, playing their best all around game in the win over the Bears.

Two weeks ago, Whitewater was able to hang with Griffin through the first half of play. After forcing five turnovers in their 21-20 win over Jonesboro, the Wildcats have proven they may win a few more games down the road. However, there is still more work for them to do, and having the Panthers this week won’t help.

  1. Trust the Process

The Panthers have now worked out all the kinks, and are turning into the team everyone expected them to be: a run heavy offense that has a steady pass game when needed, and a defense to match.  

With region play just getting started, look for Starr’s Mill to make even more improvements, specifically defensively, in hopes of their fourth straight region championship. 

Luckily for the defense, Whitewater is only averaging about 11.6 points a game, giving the defense a great opportunity to show their might.

  1. Fear the leg

Fear the leg indeed. Junior Connor Marke, who has been out with an injury since the beginning of the season, played in his first game last week. 

Boy did he impress. Multiple kickoffs straight to the other end zone, and a game-winning 50-yard field goal in his first field goal attempt ever. Not bad for game one. Look for a bright future for this kid, possibly Michael Lantz 2.0.

What to watch for this week:

Some people are saying that the Panthers next matchup against Whitewater might not be as easy as they think. The Wildcats are coming off a stunning 21-20 victory over Jonesboro, the team that gave Starr’s Mill its first region loss since 2017

However, one lucky win will not be enough to turn the Wildcat season around, as the Panthers have found a rhythm at the right time, and should be able to defeat a rebuilding Wildcat team.

The Panthers stay home to take on the Wildcats next week in a pink out. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

Senior+Hunter+Lawson+throws+the+ball+against+Jonesboro.+This+loss+marks+the+first+time+the+Panthers+have+lost+a+region+game+since+September+29%2C+2017%2C+when+Griffin+bested+them+29-28.

Annika Pepper

Senior Hunter Lawson throws the ball against Jonesboro. This loss marks the first time the Panthers have lost a region game since September 29, 2017, when Griffin bested them 29-28.

Gameday Takeaways, Week 5

Three notes as region play gets underway

Last Friday, the Panthers traveled to Clayton County to take on the Jonesboro High School Cardinals in the first region game of the season. A back and forth game through the first three quarters, the Cardinals eventually pulled away, winning 21-14. Here are three notes from the contest.

  1. Kalen Sims is back

It took a bit, but senior Kalen Sims has risen back to the threatening running back we all knew last season. 

After totaling 143 yards through the first three games, Sims has had a strong last two games, rushing for 201 yards and a touchdown. 

With his return to form and senior Ben Bodne’s continued strong performance, the Panther run game will be as prominent as it’s been all season.

  1. Injuries, injuries, and more injuries

The Panthers have recently been hit with the injury bug. Junior Wes Haney, who returned against Jonesboro, missed the previous two games with an injury. 

Juniors Cole Bishop, Nate Kearns, and Jonathon Higle continue to do their job, disrupting pass games and forcing teams to run the ball.”

— Sports Editor Ben Barkley

Despite Haney’s absence, the Panther defense proved it can hold high-powered offenses to low scores.

Haney returned in time for region play to begin, but senior Ardit Hoti did not play due to a knee injury and freshman William Yarbrough played despite breaking a bone in his hand. 

  1. Haney’s return adds to already solid defense

Haney made his presence known in the middle, stopping Cardinal running backs at the line of scrimmage. 

Juniors Cole Bishop, Nate Kearns, and Jonathon Higle continue to do their job, disrupting pass games and forcing teams to run the ball.

Solid play from sophomore Colin Bartek and a healthy Hoti could spell trouble for even the top offenses in the region.

What to watch for this week:

This week, Starr’s Mill has the biggest region matchup of the year, facing off against the undefeated Griffin High School Bears. Through the first five games, the Bears have averaged 35.8 points a game, while holding their opponents to just under seven points.

Griffin relies on the pass game, so the Starr’s Mill secondary will have quite a challenge. If the Panthers stick to their strategy of running the ball to maintain possession and control the clock, it will come down to which team can play mistake-free football for 48 minutes.

The Panthers return to Panther Stadium this Friday to face Griffin. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. 

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