The big question for Starr’s Mill Friday night was whether they could slow down Bainbridge superstar running back Dameon Pierce.
The answer was not really, but the Starr’s Mill’s offense, which scored on four of five first-half possessions, neutralized Pierce’s impact in a 49-28 win over visiting Bainbridge in the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs.
Nick Brown rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns and Ryan Cockes returned two interceptions for touchdowns for Starr’s Mill (11-1), which earned a shot at defending state champion Rome next week.
Mitch Prowant added 64 yards on 12 carries for No. 8 Starr’s Mill, which amassed 364 total yards and took control of the game with four touchdowns in the second period, including Cockes’ first pick six from 30 yards out that gave the Panthers a 28-7 lead.
“They were very similar. I was in the same coverage both times. The first time, I was back in my zone and the ball came straight to me,” said Cockes, who missed six weeks of the season with a dislocated kneecap. “The second time I made a read on the play and I jumped the route. I’m not a very fast guy, but I ran as fast as I could.”
Cockes’ second interception and touchdown return came in the final minute of the third quarter and put the Panthers up 49-21, essentially removing any doubt about the outcome.
Pierce got his yards, rushing for 194 and two touchdowns and adding a 74-yard touchdown reception. He topped 2,100 rushing yards for the year, but visiting Bainbridge (8-4) never solved the Starr’s Mill offense.
“If you’d have told me we’d hold them to 28 points, I’d have taken it,” said Starr’s Mill coach Chad Phillips. “I felt like we’d score, but I wondered if we would stop them.”
The Panthers blew out to a 28-7 lead just over three minutes into the second period. Bainbridge pulled to within 28-21, but Starr’s Mill put the game away with a Cole Gilley touchdown in the final minute of the first half and two more scores in the third period.
Quarterback Joey DeLuca completed three passes for 116 yards, including a 41-yarder to Brandon Rew on the Panthers’ opening drive, leading to the first of two touchdowns by Brown.
“Throwing it out there opened things up for our backs,” DeLuca said, “Once you hit that first one they back off a little bit, and our line played a heck of a game.”
Four turnovers helped Starr’s Mill’s cause; the Panthers converted three of them into touchdowns, including two of a stretch of three scores in a span of 1:14 on the second period clock.
Pierce, who is committed to Florida, closed his high school career with a 47-yard touchdown run, his 32nd of the season.
Bainbridge 7 14 0 7 — 28
Starr’s Mill 7 28 14 0 — 49
SM – Nick Brown 2 run (Michael Lantz kick)
B – Dameon Pierce 26 run (Caleb Harris kick)
SM – Mitch Prowant 10 run (Lantz kick)
SM – Brown 4 run (Lantz kick)
SM – Ryan Cockes 30 interception return (Lantz kick)
B – Mark Loeffler 74 pass to Pierce (Harris kick)
B – Loeffler 42 pass to Aaron Spivie (Harris kick)
SM – Cole Gilley 1 run (Lantz kick)
SM – Prowant 1 run (Lantz kick)
SM – Cockes 33 interception return(Lantz kick)
B – Pierce 47 run (Harris kick)