GRIFFIN BEARS 1 (photo)

Griffin High Khalfani Harps (16) in action against Starr's Mill on Friday night at Memorial Stadium in Griffin.

Khalfani Harps scored on runs of 1 and 65 yards and tossed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Kelsey to lead Griffin High in a 28-20 loss to visiting Starr’s Mill on Friday night at Memorial Stadium in Griffin as the Bears chances for winning the Region 2-AAAAA championship came to an end.

It was the second region loss in the last three weeks for Griffin (3-4 overall, 2-2 region), while five-time defending region champion Starr’s Mill (5-2, 3-0) won its third in a row to remain undefeated in region play.

“It’s just a growing experience, I know it’s not where we wanted to be,” said first-year Bears head coach Rusty Easom. “We played a good football game, (and) we played a good football team.”

“If you go back and look they were preseason expected to be in the final four, so it’s not like we lost to a undisciplined, un-coached football team,” added Easom, “Bottom line, we gave up a kickoff return that hurt and we gave up a long run on a trap that hurt us right there and then we didn’t score the second half.”

Griffin scored on the game’s first play from scrimmage when Harps, who rushed for a team-high 125 yards on 12 carries, broke off a quarterback keeper for a 65-yard touchdown run to put the Bears ahead 6-0 after the extra point was blocked by Marc Stampley 14 seconds into the game.

Starr’s Mill mounted a 10-play, 50-yard drive on its second possession to take the lead 7-6 on quarterback William Yarbrough’s 19-yard pass to Tight end Josh Phifer and the first of four successful extra points by Max Prozny with 9:24 left to play in the second quarter.

Starr’s Mill kept the pressure coming on it’s next drive by using five plays to drive 95 yards, the big play coming on Brandon Mathis’ aforementioned 75-yard TD run on a trap play that put the Panthers ahead 14-6 with 5:01 left to the half.

Not to be outdone, the Bears responded with a six-play, 73-yard drive on its next possession which took off on a 20-yard run by Gerrod Pope on the first play and a 19-yard pass from Harps to Cameron Kelsey before coming to an end four plays later on a short dump pass by Harps that Cameron Kelsey turned into a 22-yard TD pass with a successful two-point conversion run by Pope to the game 14-all with 2:42 left in the half.

Stampley returned the ensuing kick 89-yards for a touchdown to put the Panthers back in the lead 21-14 with 2:30 remaining in the half.

The first-half fireworks continued with Griffin mounting a six-play, 74-yard scoring drive on the ensuing possession that took off on a 46-yard pass from Harps to Antonio Floyd on the third play and ended on a 1-yard TD run by Harps three plays later on 1st-and-goal that brought the Bears to within a point of tying the game, 21-20, after the extra point attempt was no good with :26 left to half.

Neither team scored in the third quarter, though Starr’s Mill reached the Bears' 12 before turning the ball over on downs and Griffin reached the Panthers’ 1 before also turning the ball over on downs.

Starr’s Mill added an insurance score in the game’s waning moments on Grieg Joseph’s 1-yard TD run put the Panthers ahead 28-20 with :12 remaining in the game.

Griffin fumbled the exchange between receiver and the pitchman — when a defender, Zach Stevenson, stripped the ball — on a hook-and-ladder on the first play of the ensuing drive that Starr’s Mill defender Barrett Schmidlkofer recovered with :04 left as the Panthers won their fourth in a row against Griffin to improve to 6-1 in the all-time series between the schools.

“We had some opportunities in the second half and we didn’t capitalize on them,” said Easom. “We came up one stop short.”

“It’s going to come down to between them (Starr’s Mill) and Whitewater,” Easom said of the Region 2-AAAAA championship, “and I expect that to be the same thing between them.”

Griffin would know.

The Bears were stopped on a 4th-and-2 play at the Whitewater 4 with 1:30 left to play two weeks earlier in a 39-35 loss at Whitewater High in Fayetteville.

With two region losses, Griffin’s path forward in the final two games of the regular season is clear.

“If we win one, we’re in,” Easom told his team after the game, making reference to the state playoffs, “and if we win two, we’re third.”

“So that just means we’ll be on the road in the playoffs,” he added, “but we just have to learn from it and keep growing — we’ve come together in the last three weeks and we’ve got to just keep pushing forward.”

“It hurts,” he concluded on the topic. “We’ve lost two region games now by 12 points against two good football teams.”

Mathis (11-148, 1 TD) and Joseph (22-133, 1 TD) each eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark to lead the five-time defending region champion Panthers. 

Griffin’s next game, against Northgate, has been moved from 7:30 p.m., Friday to 7 p.m., Thursday night at Northgate in Newnan. Thereafter, the Bears close out the regular season at Harris County on Friday Oct. 29 in Hamilton.

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PANTHERS 28, BEARS 20

Starr’s Mill |0 |21 |0 |7 |— 28

Griffin |6 |14 |0 |0 |— 20

Scoring Summary

First Quarter

Gr — Khalfani Harps 65 run (kick blocked), 11:46.

Second Quarter

SM — Josh Phifer 19 pass from William Yarbrough (Max Prozny kick), 9:24.

SM — Brandon Mathis 75 run (Prozny kick), 5:01.

Gr — Cameron Kelsey 22 pass from Harps (Gerrod Pope run), 2:42.

SM — Marc Stampley 89 kickoff return (Prozny kick), 2:30

Gr — Harps 1 run (kick no good), :26.

Fourth Quarter

SM — Graig Joseph 1 run (Prozny kick), :12.

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YARDSTICK

Team |Gr |SM

Total yrds |359 |327

First Downs |14 |15

Rushes-yrds |28-236 |51-308

Passing yrds |123 |19

C-A-I |7-12-0 |1-3-0

Fumbles/lost |2/0 |1/0

Punts-avr |3-30.0 |2-38.5

Penalties-yrds |8-39 |4-30