No Matter What, Panthers Find a Way – TBO
By: Martin Fennelly
December 10 , 2011
It doesn’t matter what year.
It doesn’t matter what the names are.
Plant’s pathfinders always find a way.
They’re state football’s answer to a GPS system.
Robert Weiner and his Panthers are headed to another state championship game, their fifth in six amazing seasons and fourth straight. They know their way to Orlando blindfolded. This time it was a Class 8A 26-7 semifinal shutout over Neptune Beach Fletcher on Friday night at Dad’s Stadium.
Does it matter how they got there? They got there.
“This is a family here,” Plant senior linebacker Mike Tate said. This isn’t one of those big-name Plant powerhouses. But they’re a bunch of dream weavers just the same, and they will play for the school’s fourth state championship next Saturday night. “There’s nothing shallow or service level about what they accomplish,” Plant coach Weiner said. “They feel the depth of it, all of it. There’s so much team here.”
It took the family Friday, all of it.
It took the tungsten right foot of senior place kicker Grant Van Aman, who paved the way with field goals of 47, 30, 45 and 46 yards for a 12-0 lead.
Go Van crazy, folks! “I’ve never been interviewed after a game,” Van Aman said. It took a Plant defense that was always there when it counted.
That included a 59-yard interception return by senior Antonio Crawford to finally set up a touchdown to seal it at 19-0 _ and even then it was run in by a defender, “Iron” Mike Tate one yard up the gut for his first high school TD.
Plant found a way, again.
So what if Van Aman led the way? There isn’t Robert Van Marve or Aaron Van Murray or Phillip Van Ely at quarterback. There is no James Van Wilder in the backfield. There isn’t anyone resembling Orson Van Charles.
But this Plant edition might be as much a team as any team in Plant history. “We’re not a team of stars, we’re a team of every guy,” Plant senior quarterback James Few said. “It’s not about headlines. It’s not about names in the paper. It’s grinding every day, day in and day out, with your brothers.” Now these brothers will try to win it all. Now this defense gets to try to walk with kings.
And Few tries to walk with legends. Talk about stepping into a tough situation. There are very few, if any, high-school programs with such a Division I quarterback legacy. There was Marve in 2006. It happened again with Murray, who returned from a broken leg in 2008 to win state. There was Ely in 2009. Now Few, who started out at Plant on defense, gets his shot.
The defense and special teams, which threw in a blocked Fletcher field-goal attempt in the first half, ruled this night early and often. There was the fumble Plant forced to stop one Fletcher drive, hit by Eliel Shines, recovery by Tate Rogers. There was the touchdown ball that Plant senior defensive back Keenan Stalls ripped from the receiver’s hands in the end zone. Then came the field-goal block, right after that, by senior defensive lineman Michael Dvornik. No, this isn’t one of those Panthers juggernauts. But here comes another group of Panthers just the same, 13-1, with a lot of them still smarting from last season’s loss in the state ttile game against St. Thomas Aquinas.
Few doesn’t even know what he did with his silver medal from that game. But there is a silver medal hanging in the doorway to the coaches office. Weiner put it there. His kids hit their heads on it when they walk in to see him. “It’s a reminder,” Few said.
There’s one last game to win, every season. That’s how they think at Plant.
Here come the Panthers.
They found their way back, again.
That’s what they do.