DR. PHILLIPS — You have to go back a ways to find the last time the Dr. Phillips football team lost consecutive games.
How far back?
Seniors on this current Panthers squad would have been in the fourth grade when, in 2007, Dr. Phillips opened the season with three loses against state-ranked Edgewater, nationally ranked Byrnes (S.C.) and state-ranked Apopka — all by a touchdown or less.
In the present day, running a similar early-season gauntlet, the Panthers’ consecutive losses to West Orange (41-34) and Apopka (22-20) now have them in what head coach Rodney Wells called “uncharted territory” for the program since he took over as head coach, entering Week Five with a 2-2 mark.
And though both losses sting — and very easily could have gone the other way — the veteran coach reminded his athletes in a postgame talk following the last-second loss to the Blue Darters (4-0) that there is a method to the madness.
“These games build character; these games make you better,” Wells said. “Like I told them, it’s better to go through it now than to go through it in the playoffs.”
Wells’ mantra since his program announced its schedule for this fall has been that the goal is not to go 10-0 in the regular season but to go 5-0 in the state playoffs. For all the program’s regular season success — the loss to West Orange on Sept. 11 ended a 35-game winning streak — it has made the state title game just once and has never stood atop the mountain of high school football in Florida.
The hope is that lessons learned in these early battles will pay dividends in November, especially with some of the younger players Wells and his staff are hoping to bring along throughout the season.
“We made a lot of young mistakes; we’ve got a lot of sophomores and juniors that play,” Wells said after the loss to Apopka on Sept. 18. “I want to see them respond.”
Once again, the schedule will give his team a chance to do just that. The Panthers will welcome Daytona Beach-powerhouse Mainland to “the Spoone” Friday. The Buccaneers (4-0) have played in the Class 6A state semifinal game in three of the past four years.
To have success against Mainland, Dr. Phillips will need to put together a complete effort in all three phases; something it has not done to its own high standard in the losses to the Warriors and Blue Darters. Against West Orange, the Panthers defense came up short, with Wells marveling afterward that he could not recall a Dr. Phillips team ever scoring 34 points and losing.
Seven days later, it was the offense that bogged down against Apopka in the second half, unable to add any points after halftime as the Blue Darters scored 16-unanswered to take the victory.
A program with a tradition like the Panthers’ is not in the business of celebrating moral victories, but there is some silver lining to what has transpired so far. Dr. Phillips was a couple plays away from being 4-0 and, quite possibly, ranked nationally. Just one of the games in the six-game gauntlet is a district game — the last one, against Oak Ridge on Oct. 2.
And as for that 2007 team that started off 0-3? It still made the state playoffs — a reminder that there is still a lot of football yet to play.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].