No quit

Panthers advance to final four after wild overtime thriller


Annika Pepper

Senior Kalen Sims runs in for a touchdown. Sims ran the ball on 21 carries for 134 yards and three touchdowns. He also scored the game-winning two-point conversion in overtime.

It is overtime on the goal line. The Panthers are currently down by one after scoring a touchdown. A face mask penalty brings Starr’s Mill right outside the goal line. Starr’s Mill decides to risk their entire season and go for a two-point conversion to win the game.

We don’t care who you are, we don’t care who you beat, we don’t care what your record is, we’re gonna come out here and hit you every play.”

— senior running back Kalen Sims

“These kids got no quit in them. They love the game, they love to compete, they love each other, they’ve invested a crazy amount of talent in this season,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “[They are] just tough kids, hard-nosed tough kids.”

At stake was the Panthers’ first appearance in the AAAAA GHSA semifinals since 2010. Starr’s Mill came away with a 25-24 victory when senior Kalen Sims crossed the goal line.

Leading the Panther offensive attack was Sims with 21 carries for 134 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Ben Bodne, who reached 1,000 rushing yards on the season, also came to play with 18 carries for 102 yards. The offense controlled over 30 minutes of game time.

For the Bulldogs, junior quarterback Arendez Fedd led the team, going 9-for-18 with 110 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Fedd also ran the ball nine times for 73 yards and a touchdown. Senior Nate Mccollum ran the ball 11 times for 66 yards and a touchdown.

“I tell [doubters] ‘don’t doubt us’,” Sims said. “We don’t care who you are, we don’t care who you beat, we don’t care what your record is, we’re gonna come out here and hit you every play.”

Dutchtown started the game with the ball, and threw a pick on third down to junior Nate Kearns. The Panthers marched down the field into the red zone, setting up a 27-yard field goal from senior Christian Castillo, giving the Panthers a quick 3-0 lead.

Annika Pepper
Senior Hunter Lawson talks to the offense in the huddle. The Starr’s Mill offense put up more points than the Dutchtown defense had allowed on average (3.5 PPG) throughout the playoffs.

Throughout the rest of the first quarter, neither team was able to score. The Panthers, despite making it to the red zone again, were denied a field goal due to a block by senior Alabama-commit William Anderson. The quarter ended with the Panthers holding a 3-0 lead.

Opening the second quarter, Sims found the end zone for a one-yard touchdown to cap off a 56-yard drive, helping give the Panthers a 10-0 lead. Dutchtown had many attempts to get themselves on the board, including a potential big pass that was dropped. The half ended with the Panthers keeping a 10-0 lead.

“I think we were killing ourselves with a lot of mistakes,” Bodne said. “But I’ve got to give credit to [Dutchtown]. They have a good defense and our line was blocking as hard as they possibly could.”

On the Panthers’ first possession, Sims fumbled a potential first down that gave the Bulldogs the opportunity to march down the field. Shortly afterward, Fedd threw an 8-yard touchdown to senior Taurean Johnson for Dutchtown’s first touchdown of the game. 

On the Panthers’ next possession, a failed fourth down conversion also allowed Fedd to run for a 31-yard touchdown to take a 14-10 lead, the first time the Panthers have trailed throughout the postseason. 

Bodne got momentum back for Starr’s Mill with a 51-yard run right outside of the Starr’s Mill red zone. This set up an 11-yard touchdown by Sims. The third quarter ended with the Panthers  leading 17-14.

Annika Pepper
Freshman Will Yarbrough gets into coverage. The Panther defense limited Dutchtown to 296 total yards and 14 first down. Junior Nate Kearns also recorded an interception.

In the fourth quarter, the Starr’s Mill defense stopped Dutchtown on fourth down, but Castillo missed a 42-yard field goal. The Bulldogs then drove down the field, and even almost scored a touchdown off a big pass, but was stopped by junior Cole Bishop. 

“You just have to kinda hang on with kids like [Dutchtown],” defensive coordinator Jeff Schmidlkofer said. “We knew they were gonna make a run. We were just trying to bottle them up and get the ball back to the offense as many times we could.”

A potential game-winning touchdown by Dutchtown was called back by a holding penalty. Other penalties continued to push Dutchtown back from the end zone. They had to settle for a 20-yard field goal by senior Kimari Underwood sending the game into overtime with the two teams tied at 17.

Mccollum quickly ran the ball into the end zone in two plays to give Dutchtown a 24-17 lead. Bodne got yardage for the Panthers, which Sims capitalized on with a three-yard touchdown. A facemask penalty placed the ball even closer to the end zone, so the Panthers went for a two point conversion for the win.

The Panthers tried one attempt, but Dutchtown quickly called a timeout to raise the tension for the Panthers. In a do or die play, Kalen Sims punched the ball in for the two-point conversion. Starr’s Mill came out of the game with a 25-24 victory.

“I gotta give credit to my o-line, because if they weren’t making them big blocks, I wouldn’t have had as many yards as I did,” Sims said. “I just gotta give thanks to them, and give thanks to the coaches for believing in me for putting me in that situation.”

Coming out with the victory, the Panthers move on to the semifinals for the first time since 2010. They will face the Warner Robins Demons, who defeated Clarke Central 49-14 last Friday. The winner will punch their ticket into the 2019 AAAAA State Championship game.

Starr’s Mill will travel down to Warner Robins to face the Demons in the semifinals this Friday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

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