Plant Claims 8A State Title 31-20 -TBO
December 18. 2011
ORLANDO – A state football championship was on the line. The momentum had swung away from the Plant High Panthers. Now here was an opportunity.
Plant junior defensive lineman Mitchell Wright said he might remember the sight forever. There he was, crashing into the opposing end zone, trying to create third-down pressure. There was Miramar quarterback Camren Hudge, running for cover. And there in front of Wright, fully extended and largely unprotected, was the football.
“My eyes got big,” Wright said. “I swatted at it.”
The ball popped loose, into the waiting arms of linebacker Tate Rogers for a put-away touchdown with 6 minutes, 7 seconds remaining, and the Panthers had clinched their Class 8A state title.
Outside of some bad patches, the Panthers took it to the Miramar Patriots, winning 31-20 Saturday night before 4,802 fans at the Citrus Bowl. Miramar (13-1) was the nation’s No.3-ranked team, according to USA Today, but Plant was by far the better team on this night.
It was Plant’s fourth state football championship (along with 2006, 2008 and 2009), setting a Hillsborough County record and providing a nice local bookend for Armwood’s Class 6A title achieved earlier in the day.
“I think we played great, really great,” said Panthers coach Robert Weiner, whose team finished 14-1.
“At times, outside of a mistake here and there, we might have played a perfect game,” Panthers defensive coordinator John Few said. “The kids followed the game plan almost to perfection.”
The Panthers, who never trailed, limited Miramar to 145 yards. Two of the Patriots’ touchdowns were set up by Plant mistakes.
Meanwhile, Plant opened the game with a six-play, 63-yard touchdown drive as Wesley Bullock scored on a 21-yard run (part of his 124-yard night). It also got offensive scores from quarterback James Few on an 8-yard run and linebacker Mike Tate, who made a guest appearance in the backfield for a 1-yard score, along with a 37-yard field goal from Grant Van Aman.
After Miramar cut Plant’s seemingly comfortable 17-point lead to 24-20 with two third-quarter touchdown passes, the Panthers regained possession at their 24-yard line with 11:47 remaining in the game. Then Plant mounted its best drive of the night, grinding away, methodically moving the chains, converting on two long third-down plays, reaching the Miramar 6.
But on the drive’s 13th play, as Antonio Crawford swept left toward the end zone, he fumbled at the 2. Patriots free safety Marrell Jackson recovered.
The moment was crushing.
“My brothers (teammates) told me to forget it, but I was feeling bad,” Crawford said. “We were determined to make something good happen.”
With Miramar looking to convert a third-and-11 from its 1, Wright made the biggest play of his life. Rogers was there to score. Plant had taken back the game.
The Panthers’ defense, which had seven sacks and 13 tackles for a loss, was the most important factor.
“We played a very sound game,” Wright said. “I know Miramar was highly ranked. We heard they didn’t even know who we were and they were already being fitted for their championship rings. It just goes to show you that if you have hard work and heart, you can come out on top.”
Few, the senior quarterback who joined Robert Marve, Aaron Murray and Phillip Ely as a state-champion Plant signal-caller, displayed plenty of his own heart. He rushed for 57 yards and generally had Plant in the right play all night.
“This is like a dream,” he said. “It’s something I’ve wanted my whole life. We came out and showed them we can play with physicality. Then when things started to go against us, our defense stepped up. You talk about a team effort! It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Plant won a state title in its third different classification.
“I guess we’re the Floyd Mayweather of high school football,” Weiner said. “I can’t say enough about how we progressed this season. We were up to all challenges. And when it was getting away from us, we found a way to get it done.”