A star is born

Senior running back Devin Barnett shines, posts three touchdowns in shutout win


Annika Pepper

Senior running back Devin Barnett celebrates a touchdown with senior tackle Joseph Rampey and junior running back Brandon Mathis during their home game against the Mt. Zion Bulldogs. A blend between a bend, don’t break defense and a rapid-fire offensive attack led the Panthers to a 35-0 shutout and their first win of the season. Barnett took the ball in five carries for 134 yards and three touchdowns. The Panther offense as a whole put together 294 yards of offense in only about 17 and a half minutes of possession time.

Daniel Stackhouse, Sports Editor

Following a 20-21 loss to East Coweta, Starr’s Mill went back to work getting ready for game two at home against the Mt. Zion Bulldogs. A defense that refused to break and a senior running back with blazing speed came together for a 35-0 shutout victory, giving Starr’s Mill their first win of the season.

Any time [Barnett] gets the ball in his hands, if he can get to open space, he’s liable to make a big play.

— offensive coordinator Burt Waller

A new figure rose to prominence — senior back Devin Barnett. In his second game with the Panthers, he had five carries for 134 yards and three rushing touchdowns. Junior Brandon Mathis also pitched in with five carriers for 69 yards and a touchdown. The Panthers put up 35 points in roughly 17 minutes of possession time.

“[Barnett] doesn’t change directions like Kalen [Sims] does, but top-end he’s faster than Kalen,” offensive coordinator Burt Waller said. “He’s liable. Any time he gets the ball in his hands, if he can get to open space, he’s liable to make a big play.”

On the other side of the field, senior quarterback Taariik Brett carried the Bulldogs on his back. He spent over half an hour of game time at the helm rushing the ball 22 times for 117 yards, nearly twice as many yards as any of his teammates. Despite his efforts, the Bulldogs’ offense did not eclipse 200 total yards.

Mt. Zion began the game with a lengthy drive that lasted nearly 11 minutes. The ending punt was mishandled, bringing the start to the Panthers’ first drive at Mt. Zion’s 47-yard line. Two plays in, Mathis took the carry to the house for a 42-yard touchdown run to take a quick 7-0 lead.

A three-minute drive from the Bulldogs ended in a punt that put Starr’s Mill in their own red zone, and the final play of the first quarter knocked them back a few yards. In the opening play of the second quarter, Barnett turned on the jets and broke away for an 83-yard touchdown for his first score of the game, increasing the Panther lead to 14.

Senior linebacker Wes Haney scans the opposing offense ahead of the next snap. The Starr’s Mill defense held Mt. Zion’s offense to zero points in the defense’s first shutout of the season. Despite controlling over half an hour of the clock, Mt. Zion could not crack 200 yards of total offense, including senior quarterback Taariik Brent throwing an interception to senior safety Cole Bishop at the end of the second quarter. (Annika Pepper)

“At first it was a little rough running on new plays, there’s a lot of rules,” Barnett said. “But the great coaching [helps]. Every day we worked on [improving]. We watch film almost every day. They tell me what I do wrong and what I need to fix.”

In their third drive, the Bulldogs kept onto the ball, driving for nearly the entire quarter. Brent, and senior running backs Kenton Varnado and Omaree Trimble, moved the chains on three straight fourth down conversions, including one in which Brent weaved his way through several defenders for the first down. However, the Bulldogs drive finally ending with no points to take away from all the time spent. 

Starr’s Mill had possession in the final minutes, which ended in a punt with about thirty seconds on the clock. In the final seconds of the half, Brent chucked the ball downfield into the arms of senior safety and Duke commit Cole Bishop for the interception. Keeping control on defense, the Panthers held a 14-0 lead at the half.

To kick off the half, the Bulldogs went for an onside kick, but junior Colin Bartek scooped up the ball. One play into the third quarter, Barnett went the distance again for a 38-yard touchdown run and his second score of the night.

“[Blocking] is just about doing what you can to help the running backs,” senior tackle Joseph Rampey said. “They can’t do everything by themselves and we can’t do everything by ourselves. You just gotta stick to your rules and keep your footwork and focus on doing what you can.”

Brent and the Bulldogs produced another drive alive for six minutes, but the Panther defense kept them in check and ended the drive with a turnover on downs. The following drives, Starr’s Mill punted after a three and out, and then Mt. Zion turned over the ball on downs. On the next drive, a third down conversion by Mathis opened up another scoring opportunity for Barnett, who ran the ball for a quick 18-yard touchdown for his third and final score of the game.

We’re right where we need to be, but we’re still nowhere near where we want to be by the time we get to where region games start.

— offensive coordinator Burt Waller

Now trailing 28-0, Mt. Zion brought their drive into Panther territory again, but left with no points to show for it. In the final quarter, Starr’s Mill controlled the clock for nearly ten minutes. As time waned, the Panthers pulled their starters.

By the end of their long drive and with one minute left in the game, freshman Anderson Cardoza struck the final blow and expanded the Panthers’ lead 35-0. As Mt. Zion trudged out to the field for a couple more plays, the clock expired, and the Panthers won their first game of the season by a final score of 35-0.

“We did a good job of improving from week one to week two, which that’s the week that you expect to improve the most,” Waller said. “We got two tough opponents coming up, and then we jumped into the region schedule. We’re right where we need to be, but we’re still nowhere near where we want to be by the time we get to where region games start.”

After this convincing blowout, the Panthers claim their first win of the season and improve their record to 1-1. Starr’s Mill will now have two more opponents until the region begins. This week they travel to play the Union Grove Wolverines, who are 2-0 with two blowout victories of Hampton and Spalding. After that they end their non-region play with Sandy Creek at home.

Game three for the Panthers will be down in McDonough, Georgia, this Friday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.