Despite a cold front that moved through on Friday night, Dr. Phillips (9-2) adapted and overcame miserable weather to beat Lennard 28-7 in their Class 8A, Region 1 quarterfinal.
Going into the night Panthers’ head coach Rodney Wells knew the rain would wreak havoc in many ways, and he knew it would change the way his team played.
“We usually are a very balanced team,” Wells said. “We have some really good receivers who can get open and run some good routes, and our quarterback — Isaiah (Givens) — has been hitting guys in stride over the last four or five weeks, but we just couldn't do that tonight… because of the weather.
“We just leaned on the offensive line and the run game, which is not a bad option,” he said.
Relying on the run game paid off as running back Brandon Fields ran for 57 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries, while Jaydan Taylor picked up two touchdowns — one on a 3-yard run and another on a 32-yard punt return. Nivon Holland also added a rushing score.
Throughout the game both offenses struggled as the field conditions worsened, while the ball was made slick by the constant rain.
It wasn't until two minutes into the second quarter that the Panthers were able to find pay dirt. After Givens hit receiver Jalen Washington for a big gain down to the 3-yard line, Taylor would get the rock and smash through the line for a touchdown. The extra point gave the Panthers the 7-0 lead with 10:42 left in the half.
On Dr. Phillips’ following offensive drive, the Panthers went right downfield on the Longhorns (7-4) — running eight-straight running plays before Fields capped it off with a 9-yard touchdown run. The extra point extended the Panthers’ lead to 14-0 with 2:57 left in the half — a score that would hold going into the locker room.
The rain continued to fall coming out of the break, and both team’s would hold the other scoreless — until Taylor broke free on a highlight-reel making 32-yard punt return for a touchdown with 6:23 left in the third quarter.
“When I first got it I had to cut back, because the defender was right in my face,” Taylor said. “Then I saw Stephen Dix and I had a clear path and basically walked into the end zone.”
The Panthers would get one more score in the game that came less than two minutes later as Holland scorched the Longhorns’ defense on a 33-yard run himself. The extra point from Riley Stephens — who was 4-for-4 on the night — gave the home side the 28-0 lead.
The third quarter would see a big milestone for Lennard — it would be the first time all game the Longhorns would find themselves in Panthers’ territory.
In fact, the Dr. Phillips’ defense didn’t yield an inch and shutout a team that had averaged almost 26 points per game, while running back Tino Hunt had picked up almost 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season. In the game against DP, however, Hunt was held to just 76 yards on 23 carries — an average of 3.3 yards per carry.
“That’s a 1,600-yard back, so when we pop on the film the first thing that you see is #21 just shredding everyone’s defense for 160 yards a game,” Wells said. “That was the challenge of the week.”
The only score for the Longhorns came in the dying minutes of the game when the Panthers — who had their backs to their own goal line — fumbled the ball away in the end zone, which was recovered by Lennard’s Cortland Mitchell with 2:33 left in the game. The extra point would be good, sealing the game’s final score at 28-7.
Next up for the Panthers is another home matchup, this time against Kissimmee Osceola (9-1) in the regional semifinal. Being able to host the first two rounds of the playoffs is something that the Panthers are more than excited about.
“It feels good,” Taylor said. “We just have to get back into the weight room and come back and get better.”