The heated rivalry rematch between Starr’s Mill and Whitewater did not disappoint, as the Panthers exploded in the second quarter, grinding out a 21-7 road victory over the Wildcats on Friday night.
For the Panthers, they hope it’s the opposite of last season’s start. Whitewater handled them in the opener 43-21 as Starr’s MIll stumbled to a 3-4 start. They recovered en route to a state playoff berth, but they are determined to start strong in 2015.
“We didn’t play exactly how we thought we were going to, but we are pleased,” said Starr’s Mill coach Chad Phillips. “Anytime you beat a rival, it’s good.”
The key to the night was a suffocating defensive performance from the Panthers, allowing zero points and just 89 totals yards, while forcing four turnovers.
“I’m very proud,” said Phillips. “This is the second year that we’ve been in the same defense, and we’ve got five full-time defensive coaches. That showed. I’m really pleased with the defense.”
Whitewater came out on the wrong end of the score this week, but there is actually plenty to be proud of. An extremely young team that lost more than 20 seniors pushed Starr’s Mill to the limit.
“I told the kids I thought they played about as hard as they could play,” said Whitewater coach Amos McCreary. “They stood in there and fought and made it a good ballgame.”
The Panthers got the tough test they expected and then some.
“Whitewater is a lot better football team than people realize,” said Phillips. “They’re very athletic, very big, very physical. We can’t simulate that in practice. They were giving us some problems up front.”
The first quarter was all defense. Starr’s Mill’s offense would not notch a first down in the frame. Whitewater would move the chains with the help of a couple penalties, but turnovers would kill two possessions. The Wildcats drove into Panther territory, but an Anthony Davis fumble recovery turned them away. Matt Mullins later picked off a pass to set up his Panthers past midfield, but a failed fourth down conversion spoiled it.
The second quarter belonged to the Starr’s Mill offense as they scored all of their points on the strength of three huge plays.
“They were taking Rico (Frye) out of the game, but the good thing about this offense is, when you take one back out, there should be two others to showcase,” said Phillips.
Ryan Cockes set the Panthers up close to midfield with a sliding interception, and this time the team didn’t waste the turnover. On the next play, Nick Brown sliced through the middle of the defense for 52 yards. He was dragged down short of the goal line, setting up a Rico Frye two-yard score. Whitaker Chu’s extra point staked the Panthers to a 7-0 lead.
Brown struck again on the first play of Starr’s Mill’s next possession, burning the Cats for a 59-yard touchdown. In the span of two consecutive carries, Brown piled up a gaudy 111 yards.
The Panthers had one more big play up their sleeves in the quarter. Joey DeLuca executed a smooth playaction fake to pull in the safeties and lofted a pass over the top, hitting Dion Munerlyn in stride. Munerlyn raced downfield for an 87-yard completion, getting tripped up short of the end zone. Frye again punched it in for a 21-0 lead.
It was that sequence that did in the Wildcats.
“We knew that we had to take away their big play,” said McCreary. “They had those three big plays, and we knew that’s what we couldn’t do. We ended up on the wrong end of them.”
Whitewater kept battling in the second half, sparked by senior iron man Ian McIntyre. On offense, McIntyre accounted for 76 of the team’s 89 yards. On defense, he intercepted two passes, returning one 65 yards for Whitewater’s lone touchdown.
“Ian is a tough kid. He’s having to play a lot for us both ways,” praised McCreary. “He’s a great leader for us. We wouldn’t even be playing as well as we did without him.”
The Wildcats forced another turnover early in the fourth quarter, Kevin Schachle pouncing on a fumble. The offense moved the ball well on the ensuing possession, but the Panther pass rush stiffened up. Ryan Spiecha tallied one sack, and Brandon Kim and Michael Runyan teamed up for another to squash the drive.
Nick Brown led the Panthers with 164 yards and one score on 13 carries. Rico Frye added 48 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Joey DeLuca threw for 95 yards on two completions with two interceptions.
Starr’s Mill hosts Fayette County this week, while Whitewater hosts Banneker.
For more photos from the game, click here.