Gameday Takeaways, Playoffs – Round 2
Three takeaways from abrupt season finale
December 9, 2020
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.