Dr. Phillips football preps to host regional final
| 7:07 p.m. November 25, 2014
ORLANDO — Several high-profile varsity football teams fell victim to a remarkably competitive Class 8A playoff bracket Nov. 21.
Dr. Phillips High School was not among them.
The top-ranked Panthers continued along their hopeful road to the renovated Citrus Bowl by utilizing a physical brand of football to earn a 24-10 regional semifinal victory over Tampa Plant at Bill Spoone Stadium — helping to erase some of the memories of last year’s overtime loss to the four-time state champions.
Dr. Phillips (12-0) entered the 2014 state playoffs tied atop the final Associated Press Class 8A state poll with undefeated Jacksonville First Coast. And while fourth-ranked West Orange, No. 6 Lake Mary and No. 10 Vero Beach joined Plant among the contending teams ushered out in the second round, Dr. Phillips is now in position to claim its second regional title in three seasons.
The Panthers will be home for the third consecutive week, when they meet seventh-ranked Manatee Nov. 28.
The first-ever playoff meeting between DP and the Bradenton-based Hurricanes is scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m.
“It will be awesome to be home again,” said Dr. Phillips’ Rodney Wells, who now holds the mark for most coaching wins (46) in school history. “I just know Manatee has always got a good tradition.”
Indeed, Manatee has 59 career playoff wins spanning 28 appearances dating back to 1973. The Hurricanes, who made the jump from Class 7A to 8A starting with the 2013 season, posted a 47-28 regional semifinal victory over Vero Beach behind junior running back Johnnie Lang’s five touchdowns.
Lang reportedly rushed for 200-plus yards in Manatee’s opening two playoff games. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes sport an 11-1 record under new head coach John Booth after opening the season in Valdosta, Ga., with a 23-7 loss to Ware County.
Wells knew any trip to the state championship at the Citrus Bowl — which underwent nearly 10 months of reconstruction before reopening its doors last week — likely would go through Plant.
The two programs (both nicknamed the Panthers) squared off in the regional semifinals for the fourth straight season.
DP used a strong defensive performance to defeat visiting Plant, 24-7, in 2012. Dr. Phillips not only achieved the same point total this time around, but the defense was equally impressive with two interceptions by senior safety Khai Perkins, as well as a Kelvin Clue fumble recovery that set up the game’s first points.
“This was a big game, because it’s tough going through those guys at Plant,” Wells said. “The things that coach (Robert) Weiner has done over the years makes it a special program, and they just breed confidence in everything that they do.”
Dr. Phillips wanted to be physical with Plant, and it was a strategy that helped DP build a 17-0 halftime lead. Kyle Henderson’s 15-yard run came on the final play of the first half and represented Plant’s lone first down during the opening 24 minutes.
“Our defensive coordinator, Coach (Steve) Breitbeil, does a great job in the weight room and we continue to lift weights all throughout the season,” Wells said. “We don’t stop in the offseason and it’s a testament to Coach Breitbeil. We roll a lot of players out there where we play probably 25 guys on defense, so we kind of stay fresh that way.”
Offensively, Dr. Phillips turned to a running game that proved effective in a comeback win over Bloomingdale the previous week. Senior running back Daquan Isom had touchdown runs of 3 and 39 yards in the first half.
Dylan Meeks forced a fumble that Clue recovered at the Plant 9-yard line, and two plays later, Isom scored out of a Wildcat formation. Ethan Shafer added the extra point to give DP a 7-0 lead with 3:28 left in the first quarter.
Dr. Phillips had a limited passing game for the second straight week. But, early in the second quarter, Rudy Norwood completed an important 15-yard wide receiver screen to Mike Macon on third down that put the Panthers in position to run a play on fourth-and-4 from the Plant 39.
Isom got the call and broke through the line, outrunning Plant’s Derrick Baity to the end zone for a 13-0 lead with 9:23 remaining before halftime. Derrick Herron’s big hit on Jordan Reed’s cutback run then forced another three-and-out series for Plant, and Dr. Phillips put together a quick drive that resulted in Shafer’s 32-yard field goal at the 5:35 mark.
“We told the offensive line and we told the running backs that it wasn’t a secret that Plant is really aggressive and they like to blitz,” Wells said. “They liked to do a lot of things when you spread them out and they’re really good at it. They cause confusion and they go get the quarterback, so we wanted to ground-and-pound and lean on our offensive line and lean on our running backs. That was our game plan tonight.”
SEALING THE DEAL
Plant (10-2) narrowed its deficit to 17-10 with 20 seconds left in the third, but the momentum was short-lived.
Isom fielded the ensuing kickoff at the 4-yard line and ran to his right where he eventually picked up a downfield block from Tashaun Lindquist. The end result was a 96-yard touchdown that sank Plant’s chances of a fourth-quarter comeback.
Isom, who also had a school-record 99-yard touchdown run against University High on Sept. 26, has 19 total touchdowns this season.
“Special teams were huge tonight and probably the play of the game was from Daquan Isom,” Wells said. “I told the guys that Plant is a great team with a great coach, and they will make a play and they will get some momentum. This is high-school football, where it’s all about momentum, and we had it early, but I knew Plant would come back and make a play, and they got it within 17-10. But Isom took the kickoff up the sideline, and it was a great call with great blocking.”
The physical game did take its toll as senior Jake Barnett (who entered the game as DP’s third-leading tackler with 90) was sidelined in the first quarter with a knee issue, and offensive standout Jaquarius Bargnare suffered an ankle injury late in the second quarter that left the junior on crutches. Nick Smith eventually returned to the field after leaving in the first half, while Norwood came up limping after a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
“When you’ve got a long season like this, and you play such a physical style of football, you’re going to get those types of injuries,” Wells said. “But that’s why we play the way we do, so we can get a lot of guys some experience.”