The Panthers have fully put a sluggish start to their season in the rearview mirror. Few teams are playing better than Starr’s Mill right now after they laid a 55-8 beating on the Morrow Mustangs on Thursday night.
“Every time we get on the field, we get a little better,” said Starr’s Mill coach Chad Phillips.
While the offense has been cruising most of the season, including averaging 46 points a night over the last five games, it is the Panther defense’s improvement that will make the team lethal. In three of the last four games, Starr’s Mill had limited their opponent to single digit scoring. On Thursday, they limited Morrow to 204 yards, most of them coming on one scoring play.
“Defensively, we’ve finally learned to focus,” Phillips said. “You keep your eyes on your responsibility. You don’t look in the backfield. You do what you’ve been coached to do.”
Luckily for the team, Phillips has a coaching staff that he couldn’t be more proud of.
“Our coaches have done an outstanding job,” Phillips said, crediting his whole staff for shaping the Panthers back into a winner. “We have excellent coaches at every position.”
Alongside a dynamic ground game, the Panthers now boast a potent passing attack. They piled up 432 totals yards against Morrow, 281 on the ground with 151 through the air on just nine completions.
“If you’re gonna stop us, every coach in America is going to try to stop our running game. That’s what we’ve always done here,” said Phillips. “If you do that, you leave some passing holes open.”
Rico Frye had another big night. The freshman back ran for 116 yards and two scores on 11 carries.
Sophomore quarterback Stone Kasten is improving week by week, and his weapons are growing. Kasten was effective and efficient, completing 9 of 15 passes for 151 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 22 yards and another score.
Dion Munerlyn continues to come alive, shredding the Morrow defense for 100 yards and two touchdowns on five catches.
“Stone’s got a good arm, and we’ve got some kids catching the ball right now. (Dion) is finally gaining that confidence. He finally believes he’s faster than most everybody out there.”
Much like in last week’s win over McIntosh, Starr’s MIll build up a big first half lead and added a little icing for a comfortable victory.
Munerlyn beat up on Mustangs right out of the gate, moving the chains twice with big pick ups. He finished what he started, taking a screen passing and beating the defense to the edge for a 17-yard touchdown.
Brandon Oot’s extra point made it a 7-0 lead, a lead they would not relinquish all night, less than two minutes into the game.
The second drive was more of the same. Davis Wilson picked up a key third down conversion with an eight yard grab, then Rico Frye did the rest. Frye finished off the series with a two-yard plunge.
A heady special teams play and a defensive turnover kept the momentum rolling. After a rare stalled drive, a high snap sailed over punter Mitch Pattison’s head. Pattison chased the ball down deep close to his goal line and managed to get a kick off. Rather than turning it over in the red zone, the Panthers were given a little breathing room. They took the ball right back when Satchel Goodrich intercepted a pass on the next play and returned it past midfield.
The big plays continued as Marcel Ray caught an underneath pass and raced through the defense for a 40-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead at the end of one quarter.
Frye tacked onto the lead with a spectacular run. After running up the gut, he appeared to be heading to the ground in the grip of a Mustang defender. Somehow, he maintained his balance, sprung back to his feet, and bounced the ball back outside en route to a 38-yard touchdown and a 28-0 lead.
Morrow finally got on the board with their own big strike, taking advantage of a misread coverage to hit an 85 yard touchdown bomb.
Starr’s Mill padded their lead, with Kasten using his feet on an option keeper for a six-yard score and a 35-8 halftime advantage.
The Panther defense forced three second half turnovers, the first a Luke Schoolcraft interception, his third in two games.
Starr’s Mill followed with their wildest score of the night. Down in the red zone after Schoolcraft’s pick, Frye headily picked up a loose ball off the ground. Faced with a charging defender, he wheeled around and pitched it back to Kasten who calmly threw a strike to Munerlyn for a 14-yard touchdown. The unintentional flea flicker touchdown staked them to a 41-8 lead.
Next came freshman Cole Gilley, snaring a tipped ball for an interception and returning it for a 38-yard touchdown.
With the outcome comfortably settled, fresh faces started pouring into the game. Clayton Bollen swept around the right end for a 57-yard run that would set up the game’s final score. Dre Davis did the honors with an eight yard burst. Michael Runyan ended Morrow’s final series when he pounced on a fumble.
Starr’s Mill, now 4-3, will play at Mundy’s Mill on Friday.