‘We were gassed’

Football makes statement in overtime loss to East Coweta

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Annika Pepper

Sophomore Will Yarbrough scans the field for an open receiver during the Panthers’ game against the East Coweta Indians in Sharpsburg last Thursday. A brand new Panther offense rose up, showing tons of promise in a tight contest that ended in a 21-20 victory for East Coweta. Yarbrough made his first start as the team’s quarterback count with six pass completions for 127 yards and two touchdown passes as well as 11 carries for 25 yards. On the contrary, he still showed signs of inexperience with two lost fumbles in the second half.

Daniel Stackhouse, Sports Editor

What transpired at Garland-Shoemake Stadium at East Coweta last Thursday was nothing short of the definition of football in the trenches. Starr’s Mill and East Coweta battled back and forth in a contest that lasted for nearly two and a half hours. By the end, both teams had put everything on the field, including a gutsy two-point conversion attempt in overtime that came up short and gave the Indians a 21-20 victory.

We practiced that situation, we were ready for that, and we just didn’t execute.”

— head coach Chad Phillips

“We were gassed,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “If you play another round [and] kick an extra point, we’d have to go on offense back to back. We had a good play call. We practiced that situation, we were ready for that, and we just didn’t execute.”

Sophomore Will Yarbrough led the brand new Panther offense in an impressive first game under center. He racked up 153 in total with two passing touchdowns; but he also lost two fumbles. He was assisted in the backfield by junior Brandon Mathis, who ran for 48 yards, and senior Devin Barnett who, in his first ever start, ran the ball for 11 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown.

East Coweta quarterback, junior Daniel Shoch, took the reins for the Indian passing game, going 13-for-16 with 189 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Trey Bowles and senior Jayden Bolton combined for a rushing attack that put together 182 yards and two touchdowns.

Defense was the name of the game in the entire first half. While the new offense was adjusting in their first actual game, the state recognized defense kept the Indian offense away from the end zone.

“We work our butt off day in and day out,” junior Barrett Schmidlkofer said. “We do everything that nobody else does.”

Senior Devin Barnett rams through Indian defenders during a rushing attempt. The senior rookie led the Panther rushing attack with 11 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown. His one score came from a 63-yard rushing touchdown that helped turn the tides of the game in the fourth quarter by tying the game 14-14. (Annika Pepper )

Despite Starr’s Mill favoring a heavy running attack, Yarbrough was allowed to throw the ball on multiple occasions. He made some solid plays early, including a 54-yard screen to Mathis late in the first quarter. The offense was still green and did not produce any scoring. Even if the offense was stalling, East Coweta wasn’t getting past the Panther defense.

Time continued to pass, and the game remained scoreless. That was until late in the second quarter, when the Indians started pushing across the field into Panther territory. Just outside of the red zone, Shoch ripped it down midfield to junior Amariyon Moss for a completion on the one-yard line.

Momentum was cut off after East Coweta was hit with a personal foul penalty just after the play, moving the team back to the 15-yard line. With mere seconds to go in the half, the kicking team was put out on the field, and Indian junior Beau Beldon lined up for the 32-yard field goal. The kick went wide right. After a wild ending to the quiet half, the score remained 0-0.

“[Playing those first few drives] was a lot for me,” Yarbrough said. “As [a first-year] QB I had to put it all together. I think we did pretty good but we messed up on some things, and we’ll go back to film and watch everything and we’ll get it down.”

With the Panthers getting the ball back to start the third quarter, it was Bishop pushing past midfield for the Panthers in a 31-yard rush, followed by Barnett in a 32-yard rush to get into the red zone. On third and five, Yarbrough threw a dart to sophomore Josh Phifer for a 7-yard touchdown, giving the Panthers their first lead of the game 7-0.

Junior Barrett Schmidlkofer grasps onto a recovered lost punt from East Coweta. Schmidlkofer’s fumble recovery highlighted the Panther defense’s performance in the first half, holding the East Coweta offense to zero points in the half. (Annika Pepper )

Right after, Starr’s Mill went for an onside kick. An Indian recovered the kick, but lost it in a fumble that Panther senior Luke Mullins recovered. Starr’s Mill did not score for the rest of the quarter, but they kept East Coweta at bay. Beldon went for another field goal attempt late in the quarter, but his attempt was wide right again.

As the fourth quarter began, Yarbrough lost a fumble that was picked up by East Coweta junior Starr Jacob-Williams. Bowles capitalized with two rushes for a score to tie the game 7-7. It was at this point of the game that the Panther offense’s inexperience began to show. A few plays later, Yarbrough lost another fumble that was recovered by senior Ryan Barber.

“It’s exciting [playing in situations like that of the second half],” Yarbroguh said. “When you get that first touchdown you’re really hyped. W

hen you go down 14-7 you gotta pick it up and do something crazy on offense. You got to go get the game back in your hands.”

Bolton ran it in for a two-yard touchdown to take the lead 14-7. In the first deficit of the game, Starr’s Mill suddenly had momentum after a penalty on the kickoff brought the start of the drive at the 35-yard line. In an instant, Barnett, the senior rookie, turned on the jets and went the distance for a 63-yard touchdown to bring the game to a 14-14 tie.

The Panther defense smothered the Indians on the next drive, bringing the ball back into the possession of the Starr’s Mill offense. A three and out gave East Coweta possession around midfield with roughly 90 seconds to go in the game. The Indians drove down the field in the final seconds on their way to the red zone.

We played against a top-three highest populated school in Georgia, and considering we held them to 21 points, I think we made a statement tonight.”

— junior Barrett Schmidlkofer

Before time was about to expire, East Coweta was on the Starr’s Mill 18-yard line, and Beldon was brought off to kick a field goal for the win. As time expired, Beldon missed the 35-yard attempt to end regulation 14-14. The game was going to overtime.

“I felt like we had a chance to win,” Phillips said. “We scheduled four good opponents for this very reason. So when we play Harris County, Griffin, Northgate, and [other] people in our region… we’re gonna be more prepared next time.”

In overtime, Starr’s Mill won the toss and decided to defer to the Indians. It took East Coweta a few plays to lead up to a 8-yard touchdown pass. One PAT attempt brought the Indians’ lead to 21-14. In the Panthers’ possession, all it took was one play for Yarbrough to throw to junior Malachi Townsend for a 15-yard touchdown.

At this point, the team was starting to greatly fatigue. Because of this, the team made the make it or break it decision to go for the two-point conversion to win the game. In the do or die play, East Coweta brought a heavy blitz right off the snap. Yarbrough rushed to pass. The ball was swatted down by an East Coweta defender, ending the game with a final score of 21-20 East Coweta.

“We made a statement,” Schmidlkofer said. “We played against a top-three highest populated school in Georgia, and considering we held them to 21 points, I think we made a statement tonight.”

Though they lost, Starr’s Mill pushed themselves beyond any expectations, going toe to toe with a successful football team that is also one of the largest schools in the entire state of Georgia. The Panthers start off this season 0-1, but there is a lot of positive takeaways in their loss that it is clear that Starr’s Mill is pushing their team in the right direction.

Season 23 for the Panthers continues this Friday at Panther Stadium for Senior Night when the Panthers host Mt. Zion. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.