October 14, 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. Their goals this year? Win a fifth consecutive region championship, and contend for a state championship.
That journey continues into region play. New region alignments have changed the landscape of competition for the Panthers. On top of Griffin, Harris County and Northgate have entered the fray, giving Starr’s Mill more layers of competition. The progress made in non-region will be put to the test as every game counts from this point forward.
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, Week 5
Three notes from first region game
Region play finally commenced last Friday as Starr’s Mill hosted the Harris County Tigers in their first region game. Starr’s Mill came out on top by a score of 14-10 to get their first region victory of the season. Here are three things of note from that game.
- A new breakout runner enters the fray
He may be late to the party, but sophomore running back Greigh Joseph made a huge impact in only his third game with the Panthers. He carried the ball 13 times for 60 yards, ranking second on the team. He also scored two touchdowns for the Panthers.
“[Being able to show my abilities] is a great feeling really,” Joseph said. “Just to put my name out there, people know who I am, it’s just a dream come true really.”
Joseph proved to be an all-around talent. He was able to run with some speed, and power through defenders when he needed to. His style parallels junior Brandon Mathis, who can do it all as well, just with a tad more experience. Producing several viable backs to utilize is something the Panthers have always been good at, and here they are doing it again.
This adds another good back to the list. Joseph, Mathis, and senior Devin Barnett — that is three reputable backs the team has in rotation. That does not even get into sophomore quarterback Will Yarbrough’s running abilities, and other solid backs on the team. This set of backs truly bolsters their abilities and aids their play overall to improve offensive potential.
- Harris County’s quarterback provided a formidable challenge
On the other side of the ball, the defense had to handle a dangerous dual-threat quarterback in junior Cooper Corey. Throwing the ball, he completed 14 of 23 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. On top of that he rushed the ball for 13 carries to rack up 50 yards, leading the team.
What is remarkable is how the Panther defense limited his contributions to only a single touchdown. Even then, that touchdown came after three juggling catches, which is something that is extraordinarily commendable by the receiving core. Corey was limited to only 5.9 yards per pass and only a 60% completion percentage.
Corey has been one of, if not the, biggest threat under center the Panthers have faced. He was only able to make a few 15+ yard plays throughout the entire game. Limiting his efforts shows how the Panther defense can shut down any dangerous threat. Keeping their productivity low and putting them on lockdown is a statement about the might of the Panther defense.
- If the culture of hard work was not evident, it is now
Culture may be one of the most overused sports terms out there. Fakers will use it to make it sound like their team is better on the inside than people think. However, I not only believe Panther football’s culture is the real deal, but they are backing it up every single game.
Four out of five weeks, Starr’ Mill has been in some sort of situation where the game was down to the wire. Game one did not go their way due to the green nature of the team. Game three, the offense came through and the defense followed suit. Last week, the defense made a red zone stand and the offense ran five minutes of game time. This week, they again pulled off what they did last week.
“Number one we got great kids. The culture is so good because of the history of this place,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “Our staff is an incredibly strong coaching staff, and we got multiple guys that could be head coaches and coordinators, and they love this place. They love being a part of this, and when everything’s going well, it’s a whole a lot of fun.”
If their culture of hard work did not exist, then the results would speak for themselves. The results do speak, and they speak volumes of the work the team has put in. Nobody knew exactly how good the offense would be, but seeing them in action clearly shows that they are improving week in and week out.
Having this level of tenacity is crucial now. Every game counts and they cannot take any opportunity for granted. There is a reason right now why the Panthers are considered a threat.
What to watch for next week
We may have just crossed the halfway point of the season, but the work has just begun. This week, they will travel to Newnan to take on the 2-2 Northgate Vikings. Northgate has proven through non-region play that they are a competitive team meant to be taken seriously. They are a wild card in the region who can make big wins if they play it right.
Northgate is also coming off of a bye week, so they have had time to prepare for the Panthers. The Panthers should be going there for business, ready to take them down. Starr’s Mill can absolutely win, but we will have to see whatever may happen this Friday.
Starr’s Mill will travel to Newnan to take on Northgate this Friday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Gameday Takeaways, Week 6
Three notes from quiet win
Last week, the Panthers made their way to Valhalla to take on the Northgate Vikings. Exactly two hours later, the Panthers were victorious 10-0. A very quiet shutout it was. Here are three takeaways from their second region win.
Two sides of the same coin
Both teams showcased young quarterbacks that played different styles. On one side there is sophomore Will Yarbrough, who played much more conservatively like a game manager. On the sideline was sophomore James Paige, who used his explosive athleticism to try and make plays.
Paige took the play into his hands on several occasions. On his own, he carried the ball 17 times for 53 yards. He also passed the ball a couple times going three-for-eight with 36 passing yards. He was never afraid to try and make a play, even if it cost the team like one big scramble inside the five did.
Yarbrough played more like a game manager in comparison. He seemed comfortable managing the clock and letting the other backs on the offense carry their own loads. Even so, he still was not afraid to take the ball and run, rushing the ball twice for 20 yards. Along with that, he helped keep the offense on the field for nearly half an hour of game time.
Yarbrough has been thrust into a situation where he is forced to adapt or crumble. Even though he has not soared with mind-boggling stats, he has carried his own weight on his shoulders. The first-year starter looked disciplined under center and proved that he can do the basics of the quarterback position.
Everybody knows that seniors Cole Bishop and Wes Haney are unstoppable forces within the Panther defense. Not only did they prove their might once again, but they also made stellar contributions on the offensive side of the ball.
Bishop helped lead a secondary that shut down Northgate’s passing game, and he also ran the ball twice for 31 yards. Similarly, Haney had a good defensive night, including a fumble recovery, but also got some important rushing yards with three carries for 35 yards.
“We have workouts during the winter, summer, and throughout everything,” Bishop said. “So we just are already dedicated to [the game of football], so discipline comes overtime.”
Having two athletes like this is incredible. These are two players who have been able to make contributions to varsity football since their freshman years. Seeing those two athletes exert contributions for the team as a whole says volumes about not only their own abilities, but how they stick their necks out for the team. Starr’s Mill is lucky to have two captains that have those qualities.
On the surface, it was looking like Northgate was simply able to consistently make stops in the trenches, and the lack of offensive production was for that reason. However, I then realized this was happening a little too often, and it was happening on several snaps in previous games. Then it clicked, it was on the green in the backfield.
Sure, the offense is doing just enough to win now, but how long will this level of play hold up? The inexperience of the backfield is still showing. Even if the Panthers are controlling time well, granted that is a cornerstone of every Starr’s Mill offense under head coach Chad Phillips, the stats are not there.
There have been 10 turnovers in six games, compared to the 13 through the entire 2019 season, the offense has only exceeded 20 points once, and there has not been a single 300-yard game yet. This is not to come down and disregard all the work the offense has been putting in, but it is still concerning.
There are going to be stronger teams in the road ahead, and one of them is Griffin next week. It will be worrisome if the offense keeps playing like this. I am sure that the team is aware of this, and know they are not where they want to be. The season is still young and there is work to be done, but it has to happen sooner in order to prepare for later.
What to watch for next week
It is a good thing that the defense is as incredible as it is, or the Panthers would not be ahead in the region right now. However, the biggest fish to fry is on the horizon. Griffin is going to be a challenge. They may not be the best coached team in the region, but their athleticism can carry them miles.
Having proven to get the job done, the offense will have to do what they have always done and then some and get some substantial production. There is no doubt that the defense can keep Griffin in check like they have with several powerful offenses already this season. The question that will be posed on game day is this: Will the offense rise even higher?
Even though I came down on this offense, the potential is there and so are the weapons. They just need to be refined some more, and then we could see great things happen.
Find out next week at Panther Stadium as Starr’s Mill hosts Griffin on Oct. 30. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Gameday Takeaways, Week 7
Three notes from big rivalry shutout
The rivalry between Griffin and Starr’s Mill is usually tight both on the field and on the scoreboard. Last week at Panther Stadium, however, Starr’s Mill had a clear edge over Griffin in a 21-0 shutout win. From the difference in maturity or progression of the learning curve, here are three takeaways from that stout win.
Griffin is infamous for, despite having gobs of talent, lacking in discipline. The Panthers had an immense advantage in discipline and maturity over the Bears and it showed all game long. Griffin had seven penalties costing them 57 yards, compared to the Panthers’ three penalties for 35 yards. This includes one instance where the Griffin offense had back to back false start penalties.
Penalties put a damper on the Bears’ game, giving them unnecessary yardage to make up. Not only did penalties hurt them, but they two centers that were on the field for them botched several snaps to put them at a disadvantage.
Problems also persisted at the quarterback position. Griffin played two quarterbacks in the game, sophomore Gerrod Pope in the first half and freshman Jeff Davis in the second half. Both were clearly talented players. However, neither of them could give their offense a jolt of momentum, keeping them grounded and scoreless the entire night.
In contrast, you have the Panther offense led by sophomore quarterback Will Yarbrough. Yes, he is green, but he is pragmatic and logical in the game. He may not have the experience, but he uses the good amount of talent he does have and his solid game awareness to make smart decisions under center.
For instance, in his first touchdown run, there were no other options that he could go to. Yarbrough made the decision to go the open lane he had which resulted in a 47-yard touchdown run. Similarly in his second rushing touchdown, after a Griffin rusher barely missed him, he saw both sides of him being blocked, and made his way through the middle. These paramount well-made decisions gave the entire team the edge over Griffin.
Defensive line blew up the trenches
Last week the unsung heroes of the game were undoubtedly the defensive line. Almost, if not all, attempts from Griffin were shut down. If there was a runner heading into the line of scrimmage, the d-line was there to knock them back and keep them to a mere 54 yards in 35 attempts.
There were too many weapons on that defensive line to be held back. Whether it be juniors Darrien Doster, Micaiah Shaber, and Barrett Schmidlkofer, or seniors Jackson Baxley, Cam Jones, and Andres Moc, or anybody else in rotation, they can and will get through any offensive line.
“We’re elite. I don’t feel like we can be stopped honestly by anybody,” Jones said. “Coming from Alabama, my defensive line wasn’t that good, and they didn’t really focus on the defensive line. I came here [and] the focus is around the whole team, and it just feels good to be around coaches who care.”
Every aspect of the defense is important, and this past week we saw the line state their case as to how significant they really are. Forcing a talented team like Griffin to lose 50 of their rushing yards and keep them to an average of 1.5 yards per carry is impressive, straight up.
This line helped out a Panther defense that only allowed two plays that went 20 or more yards. Two. It speaks volumes for a defense that has put together four shutouts in seven games. This defense is something special and performances like this reinforce that claim again and again.
The learning curve continues to progress
Struggles have plagued the offense game after game. Granted, this is a young group that is just finally getting adjusted to playing with a team and coaches with high expectations. Take Yarbrough for example. He was thrusted into the starting quarterback role as a sophomore, and sophomore Greigh Joseph was put in a similar position in the backfield. Not to mention that junior Brandon Mathis is adjusting to his role as one of the go to guys on the team.
Seeing the Panther backfield play has not been a pretty experience. However, these faults have been exactly what they needed. In the face of adversity, they have pushed themselves further to keep improving. Even though it was far from perfect, they made a big step with only their second game with 21 or more points this season.
Joseph and Mathis have been developing and settling into their roles as a new dynamic duo which has highlighted the Panthers’ traditional run-heavy offense. They combined for a solid game — 66 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown. Both had some important gains that helped Starr’s Mill keep the advantage over Griffin.
“Obviously we’ve gotten a little better, but we’re still missing these tiny little details that if we just execute these tiny little details we’ll be so much better,” Yarbrough said. “This game I think we could have scored around 35-42 points on them if we just hit those tiny little things. But once we get these tiny little things down then we’ll be fine. We’ll have a really strong offense.”
Yarbrough too has made clear strides in his play. Most notably, he scored two flashy running touchdown runs. Both of those were risks, but they were the right calculated risks to take that helped him have one of his best games yet. There is still work to be done, but what the backfield was able to accomplish against Griffin gives hope for greener pastures during latter half of region play.
What to watch out for next week
Now is the time to not let off the gas for the Panthers and keep improving. Not only for the short term (region championship) but also for the long term (deep playoff run). This week they have another potential challenger in Whitewater. They may not be known for being a football threat, but the Wildcats are 2-1 in the region. More to the point they barely lost to Griffin and pulverized both Northside and McIntosh.
I may have been wrong about Whitewater in the beginning. They are looking like a threat. Currently, they are third in the region standings. Starr’s Mill probably still has a solid chance to win, but they should tread lightly and stick to what has been working.
Should they win this week, they also have to take care of business at the very least the following week against McIntosh. They take care of that and the region title is theirs for the fifth time in a row. However, there is more football to be played, and there is improvement that must be made. If they want to take their team to the next level, that starts making greater noise in the second half of region play.
A new phase of Starr’s Mill football season begins as the Panthers remain at Panther Stadium and host the Whitewater Wildcats this Friday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Gameday Takeaways, Week 8
Three notes from offensive breakout game
This past week, Panther football hosted the Whitewater Wildcats in a county rivalry with control of the region on the line. Not only did the defense put together yet another shutout, but the offense stepped up big time to put together a 42-0 victory. Here are three takeaways from that breakout performance.
It’s about time!
At points early in the game I was scared about the offense. Scared about the idea that they could be regressing. Five fumbles with two lost is not a good metric, and it surely is not going to do them any favors come playoff time. That being said, they finally gave Panther Nation a big game to be excited about.
They played the best football this season against the Wildcats. Seeing them run for 464 yards and score 42 points was a treat to witness. Solid execution led to some big scores, including sophomore running back Greigh Joseph’s 98-yard touchdown run.
So far this season, the offense has struggled to put together some big games. The execution has been incomplete. This past week, however, we saw several big runs left and right across the field.
If the offense can continue to improve, they will be a strong force. That being said, they do need to be better with ball control. Again, fumbling the ball five times and losing two is a bad stat. In the later rounds of the playoffs, if Starr’s Mill makes it to that point, opponents will ruthlessly capitalize on those kinds of mistakes.
That being said, this is a great stepping stone. Sophomore quarterback Will Yarbrough proved that he can run and throw more consistently with 149 total yards, including a passing and a rushing touchdown. Sophomore Greigh Joseph played well again with five carries for 106 yards and a touchdown, and senior Devin Barnett had his first touchdown since week three. Overall, great performance all around.
The future’s looking bright
The defense pulled off another shutout — not exactly a shock at this point. What was a shock is that the starters did not play the entire game. Getting the shutout through the latter half was up to a group of backups and junior varsity players.
On the defensive side of the ball, the majority of starters on the defense are seniors, including the linebacking core, all but one defensive back, and a good chunk of defensive linemen. The big question after this season will undoubtedly be if the players remaining will carry on and find success.
While the complete answer to that question is still unknown, the backup defense looked strong against Whitewater’s starting offense. Two of the three drives played by the backup defense ended in negative yardage for the Wildcats. Oh, and they also neither scored nor broke past midfield.
To limit a team that significantly without a single starter on the field says a lot about the potential of this defense. There has been success at the middle school the past few years evidenced by this year’s and last year’s teams winning the county championship. Those groups are just starting to come up, and they could make some major noise once they develop.
Developing players from the inside has always been a strength of Panther football. Their feeder program has brought kids up and molded them into football players. Many players on the Panthers come from the youth teams that they played on when they were kids, and look at them now. While it was just a glimpse, those newer kids look like a strong group.
Attitude is everything
Whether it be good or bad, attitude is contagious. It is noticeable with the culture of hard work that the Panthers pride themselves on. Even if the precedent has been set by the coaches and players before, it is up to the players on the roster to follow through.
“When we messed up, we didn’t just get down on each other,” senior offensive lineman Vee Holcomb said. “We just built each other up. When somebody messes up, we don’t just get down like I said. And that just carried through the game, and once things started clicking we just started rolling, and that’s 42-0.”
When I spoke to Holcomb, my eyes were opened about how the offense in particular carried themselves. To keep a positive attitude and keep moving forward as a unit, that is a mentality worth noting.
The offense started with several mistakes. However, their willingness to keep moving forward pushed them to greater heights. With the potential the offense has shown, this is amazing! It is comforting knowing that the team is willing to pick each other up and keeping moving forward.
Even if Starr’s Mill struggles, their good attitude carries them throughout the game. They all believe in grinding and beating teams with a superior work ethic. Seeing it come together in the kind of game we saw against Whitewater inspires confidence for later down the line.
What to watch for next week
Now more than even, Starr’s Mill is in the driver’s seat and only need to win one of their final two games to take the region 2-AAAAA trophy. Fortunately for them, they will be playing two of the worst teams in the region: McIntosh and Northside Columbus.
There is no reason why they should not win at least one of those games, especially against McIntosh. Currently the Chiefs are 0-8, 0-4 within region play, and are coming off of a 41-14 beatdown at the hands of Harris County.
Should Starr’s Mill defeat McIntosh, the region title is theirs. Find out if their fifth consecutive region championship is meant to be this Friday at 7:30 p.m. at McIntosh High School.
Gameday Takeaways, Week 9
Three takeaways from final regular season game
In the final regular season game for the Panthers, they traveled to McIntosh to face the Chiefs and tore them apart for a 38-7 victory. Heading into a bye week and into the playoffs, here are some takeaways from that blowout win.
Mathis keeps running back carousel moving
At different points of the season there have been different running backs leading the charge for the Panthers. Early in the season senior Devin Barnett took the lead, and sophomore Greigh Joseph became the main man throughout region play. Then you have junior fullback Brandon Mathis who is now the biggest piece in play.
Not that he was doing bad up until this point — far from it — but his game against the Chiefs was fantastic. He took five carries for 134 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown run. On the night he averaged 26.8 yards per carry. So far this season he is second on the team in rushing yards.
What works with Mathis is that, just like his fellow backs, he opens up the run game significantly. The drawback for him this season is that he is not nearly as productive as the other backs on the team like Barnett and Joseph. He only has three touchdowns on the season.
He is a piece that has been used consistently in conjunction with Joseph to create a dynamic duo within the run game. What he has proven against McIntosh is that he can step up and make big plays when the opportunity presents itself.
Putting together Mathis, Joseph, Barnett, and sophomore quarterback Will Yarbrough creates a potentially lethal running game. Yes, they are all less experienced and make more mistakes than are to be desired, but the talent and potential is there. The Panther offense essentially has a revolving door of runners. When it works, it is a beautiful sight.
Disruption courtesy of Moc and Co.
In the trenches, Starr’s Mill has gotten through and disrupted the opposing backfield time and time again. Every defensive lineman caused trouble for the Chiefs, but by far the most impactful was senior Andres Moc with two sacks.
Moc was getting through the offensive line constantly. He highlights a defensive line that led to the Chiefs’ offense all game long. McIntosh’s run game was limited to only 113 rushing yards. Furthermore, the Chiefs were pushed back 28 yards in total. The Panther defense also recovered all three Chief fumbles.
Beyond the fact that the Panthers’ starting defense has pulled off its fourth straight shutout, they cause trouble and difficulties for any opposing offense. As seen against the Chiefs, whoever was carrying the ball, whether it be their quarterback or a running back, was forced to scramble for their lives to keep the play alive.
“Let’s give McIntosh a little credit. Their kids played hard, and thought they actually played with a little more emotion than we did most of the game,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “They controlled the clock for a good bit… At the end of the day, we had a little bit better players, a little bit more tradition, and a little better culture.”
This did allow McIntosh to squeeze their way downfield in certain cases. Even so, keeping big plays out of the picture and keeping them on their toes is a good problem to have. The fact that the defense line has caused this much trouble is indicative of their strength and why every offense should block carefully.
Practice makes perfect
As previously mentioned several times before, there is still some green in the backfield. Fortunately for them, they had nothing to play for against the Chiefs. Due to Northside Columbus having to forfeit this upcoming Friday’s game, the necessity of winning was out the window, opening the door for practicing specific things.
Against McIntosh in particular their goal was to get down the option and some passing plays. Across the game they heavily focused on calling option plays to get that aspect of their offense down. It looked like they were ironing out those kinks. Even though some plays didn’t work out, other times it did and both instances work as experience for the team.
With the lack of experience the backfield started out with, they can use every opportunity to learn and grow that they can get. I would say that compared to the beginning of the season, they have gotten better and look more consistent.
Having an impromptu bye week is both a good and bad thing for this team. It is slightly bad because there is one whole game of experience that they will not get. It is a good thing because they get an additional week of practice.
This week also gives a chance for players like defensive lineman junior Morgan Gunnin and senior Jackson Baxley and senior kicker Connor Marke the chance to heal for the playoffs. Call it a blessing in disguise, but this week may be just what they need to be prepared for the “next mission.”
What to watch for in the playoffs
Region play is done and Starr’s Mill has earned their way to the top seed. Beyond picking the winner, I may have been wrong with my region predictions, but now the second stage of the season is complete. The playoffs are on the horizon. The philosophy for the Panthers will be to take on the week and go from there.
The big question is this: Will the Panther offense rise to the occasion? Now more than ever, every game matters and one bad game could be the end. At the very least, if they can get the job done and the defense keeps on playing like they have been, the Panthers could be playing well into December.
Mission two commences Nov. 27 as the Panthers host either Jonesboro or Mundy’s Mill in the first round of the GHSA state playoffs. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.