The playoffs begin this week for Starr’s Mill.
At least that’s the approach coach Chad Phillips is taking with the No. 8-ranked Panthers this week as they head into the regular-season finale against Fayette County. If Starr’s Mill wins, it will be the champions of Region 3 and win back-to-back region championships for the first time in the program’s long and successful history.
“We have a meeting on the field before practice and that’s what we told them,” Phillips said. “This is playoff week No. 1. If we win, we win the region and that was first goal when we started the season. That’s never been done here.”
The school has won five region titles since it began playing football in 1998.
There is currently a three-way tie for first place in Region 3 between Starr’s Mill, Whitewater and No. 10-ranked Griffin. Starr’s Mill (8-1) plays Fayette County (3-6), Whitewater (6-3) plays McIntosh (6-3) and Griffin (8-1) plays Riverdale (1-8).
If all three of the teams currently tied win their games on Friday, the tie will be broken based on point differential between those three. (The three co-leaders all split with each other this season.) That would leave Starr’s Mill in first, followed by Whitewater at No. 2 and Griffin at No. 3.
If one of those top three teams loses, the tie would be broken by head-to-head results between the two remaining teams. Starr’s Mill beat Whitewater, but lost to Griffin. Whitewater beat Griffin, but lost to Whitewater. Griffin beat Whitewater, but lost to Starr’s Mill.
If the top three teams all win, that will also create a three-way tie for the fourth and final playoff spot. If that happens, McIntosh would get the playoff nod based on point differential.
Starr’s Mill has won three straight since its one-point loss to Griffin and appears to be getting healthy at the right time.
Junior Carson Walter, the team’s starting safety, finally returned from a freak broken leg suffered in seven-on-seven drills during the summer. Senior linebacker Ryan Cockes popped his kneecap out in the third week and missed six weeks. Both are back.
The Panthers may finally have B-back Cole Gilley back at full strength. He rolled an ankle in the season opener against Newnan, then rolled the other ankle against Morrow. The injuries have limited him to 382 yards, even though he’s scored 10 touchdowns.
Phillips is also expecting to get kicker Michael Lantz, one of the best in the country, back this week. He’s been out since the Griffin game.
“It’s the tenth game and I feel like we’re finally going to be at full strength,” Phillips said.
Here’s a look at how the other regions shake down:
Region 1: No. 5 Bainbridge plays at No. 4 Warner Robins to determine first place. Thomas County Central plays at Harris County for the third and fourth spots.
Region 2: No. 7 Wayne County is the region champion based on last week’s win over Ware County. New Hampstead plays at Ware County to decide second place, with the loser taking third. South Effingham will be the fourth seed and carry a 1-9 record into the state playoffs.
Region 4: No. 3 Stockbridge is the region champion after beating No. 6 Jones County. The winner of the Jones County-Dutchtown game will be the second seed. If Dutchtown wins, then Jones County would be third and Eagle’s Landing would fourth. If Jones County wins, then Eagle’s Landing would be third and Dutchdown would be fourth.
Region 5: Arabia Mountain won the region championship last week by beating Southwest DeKalb. The second spot will go to the winner of this week’s game between Southwest and Columbia. Lithonia would finish fourth if it beats Arabia Mountain this week. Miller Grove must beat Chamblee to remain in contention.
Region 6: The top three teams are settled: Carver, Jackson and Banneker. Decatur can win the fourth spot if it upsets Carver on Friday. If Decatur loses, that brings North Springs and Grady into the picture. North Springs closes with Lithia Springs, while Grady finishes with Banneker.
Region 7: Defending state champion and No. 1 Rome has clinched the region championship. Carrollton will secure the second seed with a victory over winless Cass. Kell can finish third if it beats Hiram, the team that knocked off Carrollton three weeks ago. The final spot will go to the winner of the season finale between East Paulding and Paulding County.
Region 8: No. 2 Buford and No. 9 Flowery Branch play for the region championship on Friday night. The loser will be the second seed. Clarke Central has the third spot secured. The remaining playoff spot will go to the winner of Friday’s game between Cedar Shoals and Walnut Grove.