Starr’s Mill 21, Griffin 0

High school football

Credit: For the AJC

Credit: For the AJC

High school football

Starr’s Mill lost every one of its ball carriers from last year’s team that advanced to the Class 5A semifinals. So this season, the defense has picked up the slack.

The Panthers (6-1, 3-0), ranked No. 8, notched their third shutout win of the season Friday night, 21-0 over Griffin (4-4, 3-1), in front of the home crowd at Panther Stadium. The two teams had come into the game in a virtual tie for first in Region 2, but now Starr’s Mill is in the driver’s seat to win its fifth consecutive region championship.

“Our top goal is always to win a region title,” Panther head coach Chad Phillips said. “We feel like that will always put us in a good bracket. That’s our goal and our kids start working toward that in the winter.”

Phillips said he was impressed by the way his players conditioned and strengthened themselves in the off season, which was voided by the coronavirus.

“We had kids working on their own, in their homes or going to private gyms,” Phillips said. “They really worked hard because they know the expectations here are so high.”

Those lofty expectations resulted in the team getting a good tongue lashing by his assistant coaches, Phillips said, even though the Panthers led 14-0.

“They were really ripping into them, because we were making too many mistakes,” Phillips said. “We weren’t playing as well.”

The Panthers scored just once in the second half, and were outgained by Griffin overall, 227 yards to 217. But it didn’t matter, as the defense allowed just one Bear drive to penetrate its 20-yard line. The unit is allowing just over seven points per game this season.

“We have 10 of the 11 guys back on defense,” Phillips said. “They’re getting more and more confidence and they did a great job tonight.”

The Panthers' only touchdown in the second half sealed the win, as quarterback William Yarbrough scored on a 19-yard run with just five minutes left in the game. The sophomore shook off a Bear defender in the backfield, spun to his left and sprinted into the end zone. It was his second rushing touchdown of the game as he scored on a 47-yard run in the second quarter, on a quarterback draw straight through the middle of the Griffin defense. He led the Panthers with 71 yards on five carries.

“Our backs were a little intimidated in the beginning of the game, I think,” Phillips said. “But they got better and I think you’re starting to see that [Yarbrough] is going to be pretty special.”

Led by freshman quarterback Jeff Davis, who completed 19-of-35 passes for 173 yards, Griffin moved the ball well at times, but shot themselves in the foot with turnovers, and inopportune penalties and negative plays.

Starr’s Mill took advantage of a Griffin turnover early. The Bears fumbled the snap, attempting to punt on fourth down deep in their own territory, and the Panthers recovered at the 8-yard line. Two plays later, sophomore Geigh Joseph scored from four yards out to give Starr’s Mill a 7-0 lead.

Griffin moved the ball well on its next possession and faced a fourth-and-five inside the Panthers' 20-yard line, but another bad snap scuttled that scoring attempt and Starr’s Mill took over on downs.

Midway through the second quarter, Starr’s Mill increased its lead to 14-0 when on Yarbrough’s 47-yard touchdown run. The Bears' last attempt to get on the scoreboard before the half was thwarted when senior safety Cole Bishop grabbed an interception at the Panthers' 30-yard line.