The Dr. Phillips football team defeated Delray Beach's Atlantic High 17-7 in the FHSAA Class 8A State Championship Game, winning the program's first state title.
ORLANDO The score at halftime was the same. The score through three quarters was the same.
Everything was setting up for a deja vu of the worst kind for the Dr. Phillips Panthers in the FHSAA Class 8A State Championship Game. Just as they did a year ago against Miami Southridge, the Panthers led Delray Beach’s Atlantic High 10-0 through three quarters.
But then a would-be screen pass for Atlantic early in the fourth quarter landed not in the hands of an Eagles receiver, but instead in those of Dr. Phillips linebacker Cameron Williams. With nine yards standing between him and the end zone, Williams’ pick-six extended the Dr. Phillips lead to 17-0 — helping the Panthers to write an ending different from that of 2016, when they lost 14-10.
Not even a late touchdown from Atlantic could prevent the Panthers from finishing their mission and winning the program’s first state title, 17-7.
“It means everything,” head coach Rodney Wells said. “Last year, we got here and we fell short. God had a plan — God came through for us. Our guys stuck to the steps and stuck to the process.”
In front of a boisterous Dr. Phillips cheering section that made the short trip up Interstate 4 from southwest Orlando, the Panthers got on the board first when Japerri Powell blocked, scooped and scored a punt attempt in the first quarter.
That was the beginning of an outing for Powell that saw him add 2.5 sacks and seven total tackles. His twin brother, Jaquarri Powell, get in on the fun with four tackles and one sack of his own.
Dr. Phillips next scored in the second quarter on a 28-yard field goal by Sterling Stockwell. The Panthers also let points on the board in the first half, though, and went into the locker room up by just 10 points.
On offense, Dr. Phillips moved the ball — the Panthers ended the game with 199 yards of offense and 13 first downs — but it had trouble sustaining and completing drives, something a stout Atlantic defense played no small role in.
The Dr. Phillips defense was stout in its own right, allowing just 40 yards of offense in the first half.
Atlantic did begin to move the ball in the second half, racking up 185 additional yards to finish with 225 yards of total offense. Despite that, time-after-time, the Panthers defense got stops when it needed to — including on four of six fourth-down conversions that Atlantic attempted —and eventually scored 14 of the team's 17 points.
"We talked about it on Monday — (head coach Rodney) Wells was telling us all week that we (the defense) was going to be the reason that we win this game," senior defensive back Tanner Ingle said.
What would become the game’s deciding moment began with a punt by Sterling Stockwell down to the Atlantic 15 with 10:03 to play. After an incompletion on first down, Williams read the screen that was setting up on second down and jumped in front of the intended receiver.
"The running back went out for a swing route and I saw it — I jumped the route and I caught it," Williams said. "I was just surprised I had the ball. I tucked, ran and celebrated."
Atlantic scored on a keeper by by quarterback Antoine Williams with 3:38 to play, but Michael Fox recovered the onside kick attempt that followed.
Tasked with sealing the deal, quarterback BeSean McCray ran for a first down that allowed the Panthers to run out the clock and the celebration was on at Camping World Stadium — ending the 30th year of Dr. Phillips football on the highest possible note.
“This is for the guys like me, who came through (the program) in the ‘80s and the ‘90s,” Wells said. “This is for the guys who fell short last year — this is for a lot of us.”