State championship eludes Dr. Phillips in 14-10 loss to Miami Southridge -- Observer Preps
A dominant first half and a 10-0 lead entering the fourth quarter were not enough, as the Panthers fell in the state championship game for a second time in program history.
| 1:59 a.m. December 11, 2016
Correspondent Nate Marrero contributed to this report.
ORLANDO Through three quarters of the 2016 FHSAA Class 8A State Championship, most everything went according to plan for the Dr. Phillips football team.
Then, in a span of four minutes and six seconds, things went south.
After leading 10-0 through three quarters, Dr. Phillips was outscored 14-0 in the game’s final quarter and, ultimately, the Panthers (12-3) fell to Miami Southridge 14-10, finishing the season as state runner-up at Camping World Stadium.
The Spartans’ fourth quarter rally provided the program its third state title and first crown since 1993, while the ultimate prize in Florida high school football eluded the Panthers once again. A dominant first half that saw Dr. Phillips control nearly every facet of the game was not quite enough.
After a scoreless first quarter, Dr. Phillips struck first by way of a career-long, 44-yard field goal by Sterling Stockwell. The Panthers would score again on a five yard run by Emare Hogan, capping a 14-play, 55-yard drive that sent Dr. Phillips into the locker room up 10-0 at the half.
In the third quarter, two pivotal interceptions — by Jaquarri Powell and Albert Gilreath — helped to keep Southridge off the scoreboard for another quarter, though the Panthers were unable to capitalize on either turnover.
The fourth quarter would open ominously, with Dr. Phillips losing a fumble just as it neared field goal range.
The Spartans, who had not converted a single third-down attempt in the first half, on their ensuing possession went on to convert twice on third down and twice more on fourth down to punctuate a 14-play drive that ended with a stroke of good fortune — a pass from Southridge quarterback Michael Cox that had been tipped by a defender for the Panthers landed in the hands of the Spartans’ Jordan Dillard with 8:26 left in the game.
Dr. Phillips punted on its next possession and Southridge capitalized. A pass interference call on third down gave the Spartans a first down with 4:30 left in the game and, one play later, Cox connected on a 72-yard deep ball to Mark Pope for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:20 left in the game.
The Panthers did not go quietly, though, as a 21-yard kick return by Tanner Ingle put Dr. Phillips just shy of midfield to begin its final offensive drive. A pair of first downs got the Panthers down as far as the Southridge 22-yard line, but an incomplete pass on fourth-and-four would seal the victory for the Spartans — dashing the dreams of the Panthers and the thousands of Dr. Phillips’ faithful that made the drive over to the former Citrus Bowl.
The Panthers ran for 189 yards, with D.J. Charles leading the way with 96 yards on 15 carries. UCF commit Marvin Washington was 8-for-18 passing, amassing 75 yards through the air while also scrambling for 62 yards on keepers.
The heartbreaking loss caps a wildly successful season that included a number of ups and downs for the program.
Dr. Phillips weathered a pair of back-to-back losses in Week Four and Week Five to Apopka and Daytona Beach Mainland, respectively. Then, despite finishing the regular season as district champions with an 8-2 record, the Panthers were not ranked in the top-10 in the final Associated Press poll for Class 8A.
Still, the Panthers were dominant in the three rounds of the regional playoffs, and in advancing to the state semifinal by defeating Vero Beach, the program got over a hump that it had had trouble with since it last made it to a state semifinal in 2012.
In the state semifinal Dec. 2 against Seminole, Dr. Phillips came out on the better end of a thriller, edging the host Seminoles 37-34 in double-overtime to advance to the program’s first state title game appearance since 2010.
This time around, in another fantastic game of high school football, the Panthers would come out on the wrong end — though the unfortunate result will not diminish the accomplishment’s of this season’s team or its standing in program history.
“It’s the best team — it’s the best group (the program has) ever had,” said head coach Rodney Wells, who himself played linebacker for the Panthers in the 1990s. “As far as the quality of kids … all the way across the board.”
The game marks the final time the program’s vaunted Class of 2017 players will don Dr. Phillips uniforms.
After arriving on campus in 2013 with significant buzz, the group ultimately would deliver on its promise by bringing the program within one score of the mountaintop of high school football in Florida.
Several of those seniors will now look forward to college careers, with players verbally committed to schools including Nebraska, North Carolina State, UCF and USF, among others.
For the program’s many talented underclassmen, a period of disappointment will no doubt be followed by a return to the grind of trying to get back to this point in the fall of 2017 — this time with a different result.