Bears down, spirits up

Yarbrough and backs make strides, defense pulls off shutout in big rivalry win


Annika Pepper

Sophomore quarterback Will Yarbrough makes his way downfield during the Panthers’ third region game against the Griffin Bears at Panther Stadium. Despite some struggles, the Panther offense made some big plays, while the defense kept Griffin in check to culminate in a 21-0 shutout. Yarbrough ran the ball five times for 71 yards and two touchdowns. For only the second time this season, and first time in region play, the Panthers scored 21 or more points.

Daniel Stackhouse, Sports Editor

Keeping up with the tempo of football season is imperative for success. A true contender needs to keep working toward improvement week in and week out. In a Panther football season that has been taken on with a learning curve on the offense, both sides of the ball stepped up to shutout Griffin 21-0 this past Friday.

Slowly but surely we’re getting there.

— head coach Chad Phillips

Sophomore Will Yarbrough seems to be getting more comfortable in his role under center. He ran the ball for five carries, racking up 71 yards, two rushing touchdowns, and an interception. The dynamic duo in sophomore Greigh Joseph and junior Brandon Mathis combined for 17 carries and 62 yards, and a touchdown from Joseph.

Two quarterbacks took the reins for Griffin. Sophomore Gerrod Pope played in the first half and went 8-for-18 passing for 52 yards and an interception. In the second, half freshman Jeff Davis stepped in and went 11-for-17 passing for 121 yards. Despite beating the Panthers in total yards and time of possession, the Panther defense orchestrated its fourth shutout of the season.

“We got some things to clean up, and that’s the encouraging thing,” Phillips said. “[Seeing our greener offensive players improve] confirms what we’re doing. It’s validating a lot of what we do at practice. Slowly but surely we’re getting there.”

On the first drive of the game, Griffin remained behind the sticks. Pope fumbled the football on fourth and 14, then was subsequently sacked down at the Griffin eight-yard line. That turnover on downs set the Starr’s Mill offense up within the ten. 

Senior captain Wes Haney and another Panther defender drag down a Griffin runner. The Panther defense had not only its fourth shutout of the season, but their second consecutive shutout in region play. Griffin’s run game was limited to 35 carries for 54 yards. (Annika Pepper)

They capitalized on the opportunity when Joseph punched the ball in for a three-yard touchdown, capping off a brief three-play drive. Two minutes into the game the Panthers took a 7-0 lead. Once both teams swapped three and out drives, Griffin began to drag the clock out for the quarter. 

The Bears squeaked out conversions on one third down and two fourth downs to keep the ball into the Panther red zone. On a fourth and five on the Starr’s Mill 13-yard line, Pope picked up a botched snap and threw the ball from opposite sidelines to sophomore Jaleel Chambliss, but the pass was broken up. The first quarter ended with the Panthers retaining a 7-0 lead.

“[Coach Phillips] don’t expect nothing [sic] less of us and we don’t expect nothing [sic] else of ourselves,” senior defensive lineman Cam Jones said. “It’s just the intensity we got to bring every play, every snap, to win a game.”

With the ball in the second quarter, Yarbrough attempted to throw a deep ball in double coverage to junior captain Malachi Townsend. The pass was underthrown and intercepted by senior Brandon Calloway. Griffin’s next drive ended in a turnover on downs in four plays, giving the ball right back to Starr’s Mill.

[Two offensive plays set Starr’s Mill up for a third and 11 on Griffin 47-yard line. Five players started in the backfield, and all motioned out wide. Yarbrough took the snap, and immediately saw an open lane and went for it. He blazed passed the entire defense en route to a 47-yard touchdown run to increase their lead to 14-0.

pullquote speaker=”Sports Editor Daniel Stackhouse” photo=”” align=”left” background=”on” border=”all” shadow=”on”]He blazed passed the entire defense en route to a 47-yard touchdown run…[/pullquote]

Junior safety Marc Stampley (right) and senior linebacker Luke Mullins (left) get in blocking position to protect senior captain Cole Bishop following his interception. Bishop has both of the team’s interceptions this season. This past Saturday, he announced that he had committed to the University of Utah to play safety. (Annika Pepper)

“I was just like, ‘Alright, well they got [every option] kinda covered so I’m gonna just dog it,’ and it ended up working out; ended up beating [every defender] to the end zone,” Yarbrough said. “[Me being] just kind of in the right place at the right time is what it is.”

Griffin could not get beyond their 30-yard line in their next drive, and opted to punt back to the Panthers. A four and out from the Panthers gave the ball back to Griffin for an opportunity to score. As the Bears marched, they gained momentum as the final minute of the half began to wane.

Pope attempted to make a throw downfield, but it was intercepted by senior captain Cole Bishop, who recently committed to the University of Utah. Following a 21-yard return by Bishop, the lead the Panthers had built across the half was maintained, and so was the shutout. As both teams left the field for halftime, the score remained 14-0 Starr’s Mill.

To begin the second half, Davis replaced Pope at quarterback for the Bears. Both offenses went on drives that lasted for several minutes, but neither had anything to show for it. Starr’s Mill was having trouble in the trenches while Griffin had difficulties penetrating the Panther defense. 

“We didn’t play as well on offense as I would like for us to but we played well enough against a playoff team,” Phillips said. “You can kind of see the confidence growing. Defensively it’s there, [and the] offense is starting to pick it up.”

After Starr’s Mill struggled to make it into the end zone, they had to settle with punting the ball to Griffin with seconds to go in the third quarter. With control of the ball, the Griffin began their drive as time expired in the third quarter, Starr’s Mill still being up 14-0.

I still get a little nervous every game, but once that first play hits I’m like, ‘Alright, it’s time to go.’

— sophomore quarterback Will Yarbrough

Slowly but surely Griffin drove downfield. Later in their drive, Davis connected with junior Terrance Elliot for a huge 35-yard pass to take them from midfield down to the Starr’s Mill 11-yard line. Griffin was now closer than ever to get themselves in the game.

Backed against the wall, the Panther defense held their ground, knocking the Bears behind the sticks. Three plays later it was already fourth and 18. Davis’ attempt to connect with senior Quamari Williams was broken up by two Panthers leading to a turnover on downs.

“We got to give [credit] to our coaches,” Jones said. “We could get a shutout, and the coaches will always tell us, ‘Celebrate for 24 hours, get over it, we got another game. You got to get ready for the next game’.”

Mathis used the momentum that the defense gave the team with a 21-yard run on the first play of their drive. A couple plays later, Bishop took the ball and redirected to an open lane and got 40 yards out of his one carry of the night.

Yarbrough took the snap on second and 12 as a Griffin defender charged at him; Yarbrough ducked to barely miss him. He then made his way to the house for a 19-yard touchdown run. Starr’s Mill now led 21-0 with Griffin having one last chance to get points on the board.

Even though Griffin got past midfield, a holding penalty brought them back into their territory. The Starr’s Mill defense kept them in their own territory as the Bears made the decision to punt the ball with a little over two minutes left in the game. They would not see the ball again.

If I can play, I can play.

— sophomore quarterback Will Yarbrough

“[This process] is a lot of fun,” Yarbrough said. “Starting out I was a little too nervous. I still get a little nervous every game, but once that first play hits I’m like, ‘Alright, it’s time to go.’ I don’t really see it as, like, just because I’m young. If I can play, I can play. I’m out there with everyone and it’s just easy when you’re playing with the whole team.”

Starr’s Mill easily shaved the last few minutes of the game clock to take the win. It may have not been pretty, but the Panthers grabbed the win 21-0. It is their sixth consecutive win and second consecutive shutout.

With three region games in the books, the Panthers sit on top with a 3-0 region record heading into the latter half of region play. Up next will be a Whitewater Wildcats team who is currently 2-1 in region play and coming off of a bye week. Their most recent victory was against McIntosh 41-12 two weeks ago.

“We’ll make some subtle adjustments to what we do offensively and defensively and just keep working,” Coach Phillips said. “That is our core value: hard work. We’ll come in and, I just told [the team], we can’t slow down. We gotta come in, we gotta keep grinding every single day. The whole program is built around superior work ethic, and we’re going to just keep grinding away and coaches are going to keep pushing and hopefully the players will keep moving in the right direction.”

If Starr’s Mill beats Whitewater this week and wins away at McIntosh next week, they will win the region 2-AAAAA title and be a top seed in the state playoffs no matter what. But as it is, Starr’s Mill will host Whitewater this Friday at Panther Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.