Going into the game against Apopka, Dr. Phillips knew that it would take a perfect game to knockoff the undefeated Blue Darters.
Unfortunately for the Panthers (3-2) that wouldn't be the case, as despite a late rally, the home side would fall 21-13 in a loss that saw multiple mistakes that cost Dr. Phillips in the end.
“We talked about it all week and the theme of the week was no self-inflected wounds, and it seemed like it was the reversal of that in the first quarter — everything was self-inflicted,” said Panthers head coach Rodney Wells. “We had our backs to the wall, couldn't get a first down (and) couldn't move the ball.”
The first quarter-and-a-half of the game would be all Apopka (3-0), as the Blue Darters offense would explode with three-straight possessions that ended with rushing touchdowns by quarterback Jaquan Lowman, Jaden Harrington and Reshard Sibley — making it 21-0 with 8:46 left in the half.
While the Blue Darters offense saw success with its single-wing offense, the Panthers offense struggled through most of the half. In fact, Dr. Phillips would fail to gain a single first down until the Panthers finally found life late in the second quarter.
After Stephen Dix Jr. recovered a fumble on the Apopka 41-yard line, quarterback Isaiah Givens tossed the ball over to receiver Jalen Washington behind the line of scrimmage, who then chucked the ball 41 yards downfield — finding junior Ledger Hatch for the big touchdown. The extra point would cut the lead down to 21-7, and all of a sudden the momentum began to turn.
Dr. Phillips would try their luck with an onside kick, which was quickly recovered by the Panthers — putting the home team at the 37-yard line with just under two minutes to go in the half.
With good field position the Panthers thought they had their second touchdown of the night, as Hatch once again came down with a catch in the end zone, but the play was called back for offensive holding. The Blue Darters’ lead of 21-7 would hold going into the break.
“I was a little down, because I know that if we had that touchdown that got called back, it would have been a totally different game,” Wells said. “But we had to fight a little bit harder and we did — we had our chance to win — so the mood in the locker room was really good. Everybody was positive and the coaches were positive.”
Coming out for the second half it was obvious that the Panthers were feeling much better than they had been — especially on defense.
The Panthers were hitting harder and reading the ball better, forcing the Blue Darters into multiple third-and-long situations and shutting them out for the entire second half.
After trading punts left and right during the third quarter, the Panthers would put together another scoring drive less than three minutes into the final quarter, as Givens connected with Hatch once again — this time for a 17-yard touchdown. The extra point was blocked, but the Panthers still in striking range.
Following a third-down stop, the Panthers offense stormed downfield on their last drive of the game — converting a third down with 2:30 left in the process.
Once inside the Apopka 15, Hatch once again streaked past defenders and hauled in a catch in the end zone, but was forced out of bounds before getting a foot in. Hatch ended the night with 108 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches.
The game would ultimately end as a pass on fourth down with 1:05 left would come up a yard short — sealing up a win for the Blue Darters.
Falling just short is a tough way to lose, but the game wasn't without its silver-linings, Wells said.
“(I was) super excited to watch these guys grow up tonight,” Wells said. “I knew we were prepared and the game was just moving a little fast at the beginning of the first quarter. We’re not going to be out-physicaled or out-toughed, it’s just about us being able to read our keys.”
Dr. Phillips will return to action Friday, Sept. 27, for a homecoming matchup against Windermere (1-3).