The Panthers improved to 16-0 on the season with a 20-6 win over visiting Fleming Island in the FHSAA Class 2A Regional Finals.
DR. PHILLIPS The Dr. Phillips Panthers flag football team is going back to the Final Four for the first time since 2013.
The Panthers topped visiting Fleming Island 20-6 Tuesday evening in the FHSAA Class 2A Regional Finals, improving to a perfect 16-0 on the season and advancing to the state semifinals.
Dr. Phillips got going early thanks to its defense.
As Fleming Island was driving and looking to take the lead late in the first quarter, Aunjani Miller broke up a pass that end up in the hands of Tiffany Tolbert. The interception was the final play of the first quarter, and on the ensuing drive early in the second quarter, Shiquila Bryant broke away on a short pass for the first score of the game.
"We thrive off of getting interceptions — especially (interceptions) that kill drives," Panthers head coach Anthony Jones said.
From there, Dr. Phillips raced out to a 20-0 lead, with Tolbert and Aaliyah Govan scoring touchdowns on passes from quarterback Kaylee Messina.
And, though Fleming Island would score a late touchdown, it was the Panther defense that ultimately put an exclamation point on the victory with a pair of interceptions in the game's waning moments.
"Defense has been the key to our offense (this season)," Jones said. "(Fleming Island) is very disciplined, offensively — they make you be disciplined, defensively. It was just our speed that disrupted their offense."
With the regional final win, the Panthers advance to the FHSAA Flag Football State Championships in Gainesville on Friday. Dr. Phillips will face the winner of East Bay and Plant at either 1 p.m. or 2:30 p.m. The FHSAA Class 2A State Championship will be the following day at 11:30 a.m.
Since no one on the team's current roster was on campus when the Panthers last made it to state, it was an exciting moment for seniors like Tolbert.
"It feels good," Tolbert said. "Just to go to states, it's a really good feeling."
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].