Starr’s Mill hiccupped on its opening possession but the Panthers turned in a strong performance otherwise, trouncing visiting Newnan 40-13 Friday night.
On the night Starr’s Mill dedicated its new field turf playing surface, the Panthers turned in a shiny performance to match their new plastic grass, piling up 350 total yards. Cole Gilley, who topped 1,600 yards in 2016, opened 2017 with 100 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries for the Panthers.
“Our offensive line did the job, really getting off the ball. The other backs blocked for me and I blocked for them,” said Gilley. “It was a real unselfish night for the whole team.”
Starr’s Mill, which lost in the second round of the playoffs each of the last two years, survived a breakneck first quarter and pulled away in the second and third periods.
“We couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Starr’s Mill coach Chad Phillips, who said the two second-round playoff exits have served to motivate the team. “They’ve really worked hard since January. This team is physically better than any we’ve had because we really put the grind to them this summer.”
The Cougars (0-2) had a chance early, scoring on an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown by Bryant Walker. The play ended Starr’s Mill’s game-opening drive.
After a 48-yard kickoff return by Starr’s Mill’s Nick Brown, quarterback Joey DeLuca sprinted 40 yards on first down for the tying score.
Newnan answered to take a 13-6 lead midway through the quarter, moved 80 yards in six plays, with Marcus Jackson capping the drive with an 11-yard run.
The Cougars struggled to move the ball consistently after that, finishing with 181 total yards. Newnan runners were tackled for negative yardage nine times.
“I didn’t think we played very good in any aspect of the game,” said Newnan coach Chip Walker. “It’s a process, and we’ve got to get better.”
The Panthers pulled within a point, needing four plays to go 81 yards, finished by a 56-yard run from sophomore Khalen Sims, who rushed for 111 yards on seven carries. Newnan blocked the extra point – the Cougars also blocked Starr’s Mill’s first try – and kept a 13-12 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff Newnan’s Woody Waters returned 99 yards for an apparent score that was wiped out by a penalty.
Three plays later, Starr’s Mill’s Sean King intercepted a pass at the Newnan 37-yard line, and the Panthers took their first lead on the first play of the second quarter, a 3-yard run by Cole Gilley.
Gilley later scored on a 39-yard run that put the Panthers up 26-13. He and Sims each added a touchdown in the second half.
Newnan 13 0 0 0 – 13
Starr’s Mill 12 14 7 7 – 26
N – Bryant Walker 85 interception return (run failed)
SM – Joey DeLuca 40 run (kick blocked)
N – Marcus Jackson 11 run (Kellen Lynch kick)
SM – Khalen Sims 56 run (kick blocked)
SM – Cole Gilley 3 run (Michael Lantz kick)
SM – Gilley 39 run (Lantz kick)
SM – Gilley 5 run (Lantz kick)
SM – Sims 34 run (Lantz kick)