When Starr’s Mill set its preseason goals this summer, one of them was to get past the second round of the playoffs.
The Panthers are back there again – for the third straight year and for the 10th time in the program’s history – with the aim to get over the hump and reach the quarterfinal round for the first time since 2010, when they played for the state championship. Starr’s Mill is 4-5 in the second round.
It won’t be easy. The No. 8 Panthers, the Region 3 champions, will host No. 7 Bainbridge, the Region 1 runner-up, on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
“This has kind of been our backboard,” coach Chad Phillips said. “This was our challenge for the season, to get past this round.”
Two years ago the Panthers were eliminated by Allatoona 30-14 in a game that was tight until the fourth quarter. Last year they were beaten 31-3 by Kell.
Last week, Starr’s Mill needed a last-second score to beat Dutchtown 31-28 in the first round. Bainbridge roasted New Hampstead 48-6 in the opener.
Starr’s Mill will have its hands full with Bainbridge running back Dameon Pierce, who is committed to Florida but still being aggressively recruited by Alabama. Pierce has rushed for 6,578 career yards, ninth-best in Georgia history.
“He’s one of the best running backs we’ve seen in all the time we’ve been here,” said Phillips, who compared Pierce’s running style to that of Barry Sanders. “He takes these choppy steps, makes these quick cuts and when he gets in the open the can fly. They just keep feeding him and sooner or later he’s going to break one.”
Phillips said his team will need to score a lot of points to keep their season alive.
“Most of our games are like that,” he said. “It’s been hard for us to tackle bigger, faster guys in spaces. That’s just how we have to win. If we’re going to win, we’re going to have to score.”
Starr’s Mill has scored 401 points and Bainbridge has scored 411. Sounds like a shootout, eh?
“Our kids are fighters,” Phillips said. “We were down in the fourth quarter on Friday and our kids kept playing hard. That’s what gives us a chance.”
Second-round facts: There have been 17 different teams in the AJC’s state rankings this season. Thirteen of those teams are still playing. The only second-round teams who were unranked during the season are Arabia Mountain, Southwest DeKalb and Maynard Jackson.
Nine of the teams ranked in the final regular-season poll are still alive. No. 9 Griffin was eliminated last week by No. 5 Jones County.
No region had all four playoff representatives advance to the second round. Region 4 was the only league to have three teams move on – Stockbridge, Jones County and Eagle’s Landing.
Eagle’s Landing was the only No. 3 seed to win its first-round game. The other 15 games were all won by the higher seeded team. That means seven of this week’s eight games feature a region champion vs. a region runner-up.
Of the remaining teams, Stockbridge, Ware County, Rome, Buford and Carrollton all advanced to the third round last year. The other three quarterfinalists were Griffin, Woodland-Stockbridge and Kell.