December 2, 2020
Every Friday in the fall, Panther Nation shows up to see their very own football team come out and play the game. Behind the scenes, the team grinds and grinds to achieve success. They have already completed their first mission in winning the region title, and now mission two is underway.
With a fifth region championship under their belt, their next mission involves tackling every single week and seeing how far they can go. An undefeated region schedule gives the Panthers home field advantage. With a steadily developing offense and a hard-as-nails defense, anything can happen this postseason.
What is to take away from these games? That is what The Prowler is here to provide. Every week, The Prowler will issue three takeaways from the previous week’s game to provide analysis. We intend to follow the team’s every pass, run, tackle, and score through season 23.
Come back every Tuesday for a new installment of “Gameday Takeaways.”
Gameday Takeaways, Playoffs – Round 1
Three points from record-breaking first round win
Heading into the 2020 GHSA AAAAA state playoffs, Starr’s Mill faced off against the Mundy’s Mill Tigers. The Panthers threw everything they had at the Tigers to easily advance after a 63-6 win. Highlighted by the most points the Panthers have scored in program history, here are three takeaways of note.
Quality in execution, variety in play calling
If there is anything I learned about the Wing T while watching the Panthers, you need a variety of plays to keep the defense on their toes and proficiency in execution to do it well. Against Mundy’s Mill, they showed how deadly an efficient Wing T offense is.
More than any other time this year the offense was able to execute their plays magnificently. Minus a few hiccups here and there, everyone on the offense made sure their hard work and preparation did not go to waste.
They put up 414 yards of total offense. On the ground, the Panthers rushed the ball 51 times for 354 yards. Seven different players scored for the Panthers, including five different backs, sophomore quarterback Will Yarbrough with three total touchdowns, and sophomore tight end Josh Phifer with two receiving touchdowns. All this scoring tied the all-time record, set in 2001, for most touchdowns in a game with nine.
What may be more interesting is that they kept Mundy’s Mill guessing with their play calls. This has to do a lot with the option looking cleaner than ever. Whether they were taking the ball up the middle, sweeping it outside or something else, it was all a guessing game.
It looked as though the Panthers were gambling with a loaded die. They set up solid options and the team was able to decide to take one and get some yardage. It was great seeing plays come together, and the offense with how much they’ve had to conquer have proven how dangerous they can truly be.
Moc disrupts the line, Bishop takes over the backfield
Oh, would you look at that? The Panther defense shutdown a team in commanding fashion…again. As boring as it made the game in the second half, you have to give that defense massive props. Seniors Andres Moc and captain Cole Bishop also decided to show up and make waves and lead a defense that was anything but an open door.
If getting two sacks two weeks ago for Moc was not enough, he decided he wanted a little more. On the first defensive snap of the game, he tipped a pass and intercepted the ball for a pick six. Granted the touchdown was taken off the board because of an illegal blocking penalty — the play was remarkable regardless. One turnover still was not enough, as Moc grabbed a fumble recovery later in the game.
Moc was a ruthless monster that led a defensive line that made the Tigers’ night a living nightmare, only being able to muster up 49 yards on the ground. In the wake of a struggling run game, they decided to take some shots in the air. Little did they know a hungry Bishop was on the other side ready to make a move.
Bishop recorded two interceptions against Mundy’s Mill. On top of that, the Utah commit took one interception for a 35-yard return that set up a Panther touchdown a few plays later. Despite letting one touchdown slide, the Panther secondary picked off Mundy’s Mill four times.
The might of the Panther defense speaks for itself, but a performance just like this was dynamic on top of being effective. They were able to pull off several huge plays and effectively shut down Mundy’s Mill.
Barnett leads explosive running game
Senior wing back Devin Barnett had an emphatic start to the season, proving himself as the potential star rusher of the season with incredible speed. As the season progressed, he struggled to recapture his early success. Barnett slowly kept getting better near the tail end of region play, and has launched himself back to the forefront yet again this week.
What Barnett may lack in experience as a ball carrier he can easily make up with his speed. Multiple times against the Tigers he was able to get solid gains when there was an open lane. This includes when he took the ball from the outside for a 10-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
I would compare some aspects of Barnett to alumni Kalen Sims. Both were not only effective runners, but they also succeeded as diversions. Credit goes where it is due for Barnett running the ball for eight carries to rack up 90 yards and two touchdowns.
Sophomore running back Greigh Joseph and junior fullback Brandon Mathis in particular got a ton of mileage. They combined for a total of 113 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns, one for each. It is imperative that production comes from every running back. Starr’s Mill prides itself on being able to have a carousel of running backs, and this team is no different.
It is the traditional Wing T offense that has proven to be effective time and time again. On paper, they have the plays and the ability to execute. Game time, though, it’s about who will step up, take the ball, and literally run with it. It seems like every back is willing to pitch in, and seeing that they are all looking more confident and playing better overall, that is exactly what this offense needs.
What to watch for next week
No shade to Mundy’s Mill, but round two is where the real competition rears its ugly head. Starr’s Mill is set up to play the Coffee Trojans, a team that is ranked number 5 by the AJC. They faced off away against a 9-1 Ola Mustangs team last Friday and, despite a tight first half, Coffee pulled away for a 31-7 win.
As far as the Panthers, the parts are there and have proven to perform well together. If every aspect of this team can click, the Panthers can and will run with the Trojans. It’s going be all about preparation leading up to Friday and execution the day of. Ultimately, the better football team on that night will win.
The Panthers will host the Coffee Trojans this Friday in the second round of the GHSA AAAAA state playoffs. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Gameday Takeaways, Playoffs – Round 2
Three takeaways from abrupt season finale
After an unpredictable three months, the Starr’s Mill football season has come to an end in a 24-9 loss against the Coffee Trojans in the second round of the AAAAA state playoffs. Here are three takeaways from the final game of the season.
Punting game was on point
Special teams have always been a strong suit for the Panthers, especially this season. The punting game stepped up significantly as senior punter Gavin Necessary punted the ball spectacularly. Against Coffee, he punted six times for 217 yards. Many of his punts ended up in the red zone and even inside the ten-yard line.
Punting tends to be an unsung aspect of football, but it is important nonetheless. Necessary averaging 36.2 yards per punt put Coffee in terrible field position. The Trojans were forced to start in their own red zone and had to rely on big plays to get some production.
For the most part, this kept Coffee from getting close to the end zone thanks to the sheer amount of ground they needed to cover. Because of Necessary’s efforts, getting past the Panther defense became even harder. Necessary’s leg was a key reason to why the Panthers were able to give Coffee a difficult night.
The youth was exploited
The brand new backfield underwent so many trials and tribulations. Undoubtedly, they became better than they were at the beginning of the season by a country mile. When going up against a defense like Coffee’s, that held the Ola Mustangs to seven points last week, they needed to play at a great level. Unfortunately, they fell short.
“Their coach is a Wing T guy, and he really understands the offense and how to stop it,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “We tried to get Cole [Bishop], and [Marc] Stampley, and Wes Haney on the field… those are our big playmakers.”
They tried to catch Coffee off guard. The offense went with different formations as well as shuffling in the backfield that kept the Trojans on their toes. Early on it was working well when they were able to get the lead and control possession throughout the game. As time went on, the Trojans progressively continued to figure out the Panthers and expose their schemes. Starr’s Mill also struggled with blocking, especially in open space, which did them no favors.
It seemed like wherever the Panthers wanted to take the ball, the Trojans were ready to stop them. Starr’s Mill only had four double digit runners, with two being offensive starters and the latter two being senior defensive players brought out in an attempt to make some plays. As the game went on, the offense continued to stall to the point where they struggled to garner any momentum to keep them in the game.
Good news is that minus senior wingback Devin Barnett, the rest of the backfield is intact. There are also talented runners like freshman Anderson Cardoza coming up that can open up the run game even further. This game, as well as the experience from the entire season, has the ability to set up a thriving offense in the next few seasons.
Coffee was the better team
You read that right. As much as I hate to admit it, the Coffee Trojans were the better football team on that night no matter how you slice it. They looked more disciplined, they had the better athletes, and they overall had better execution than Starr’s Mill did. That is the cold hard truth of the game.
This does not mean that Starr’s Mill did not try, they did. As a matter of fact, they stuck with the Trojans for the majority of the game. But as the game went on, Coffee got more momentum that allowed them to pull away. Even as great as it was, the Panther defense showed cracks that Coffee broke through, particularly with a 70-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, an uncharacteristic big play for a defense that has only given up 26 plays of 20+ yards all season and only 3 plays of 50+ yards.
Coffee has weapons, including senior quarterback A.J. Wilkerson and junior running back Maurice Taylor, who combined for 292 yards of offense and all three of the Trojans’ touchdowns. Their defense showed up as well. More to the point, Coffee comes from Region 1-AAAAA, perhaps the strongest region in all of AAAAA.
They had ruthless opponents like Warner Robins and Ware County, both of whom are still in the playoffs. What makes Coffee and several other South Georgia teams great is that they come from a pantheon of powerful teams that push them to be better, to be ready. Starr’s Mill has a lot going for them, including their strong feeder program and phenomenal coaching, but a lack of good competition in the past month showed that the team was not battle ready for a team like Coffee.
It was a close and hard-fought effort, even if the score does not indicate that. Coffee earned their victory against the Panthers and I tip my hat to the Trojans for giving Starr’s Mill the challenge they needed. To be clear, the Panthers played with passion and intensity, but it simply was not enough.
Next season, Starr’s Mill will be significantly fragmented. Most of their secondary and linebackers? Gutted. Offensive line? Wiped clean. What the Panthers will be keeping is the tried backfield that made significant strides this season, and most of the seemingly unstoppable defensive line.
There is going to be a lot of fixing and tuning up the team will have to do in preparation for next season, particularly with the secondary, linebackers, and the offensive line. There have been defensive pieces that do inspire some confidence, such as freshman cornerback Will Clem who has two interceptions this season.
Losing seniors like Cole Bishop, Wes Haney, Cole Sanders, and Joseph Rampey is going to be difficult. However, with a JV team that won the league championship, and a freshman class and an upcoming 8th grade class that won their respective middle school county championships, there is a lot of potential for the Panthers to have an even stronger program over the next few years if they play their cards right.
The Coffee Trojans will move on to play in the state quarterfinals on the road against the Calhoun Yellow Jackets this Friday at 7:30 p.m.