There’s an old boxing saying that goes: Styles make fights. Essentially, it means that what makes a match entertaining or determines a match’s outcome isn’t necessarily the quality of the boxers but the style in which they box.
You can say the same thing about football.
To some, watching the Army-Navy game each year, where both teams traditionally go for a run-option-based offense and play tough defense, isn’t the most entertaining style of football.
The same can be said for the more modern spread-style offenses that focus on chucking the ball from one side of the field to the other, scoring as many points as possible without even considering the idea of playing defense. Remember that 74-72 Texas A&M seven-overtime win over LSU in 2018?
Regardless of where you land on the football-style spectrum, most can agree the best games have a little of everything and a team’s style can often have a huge factor in the outcome of a game.
That’s what happened in a 28-21 overtime Dr. Phillips High (7-5) loss to Plant High (10-2) in the regional semi-finals of the FHSAA Class 4M state championships.
Dr. Phillips has one of the best and most talented defenses in the state.
The Panthers have rangy and quick defensive linemen that put pressure on the quarterback. They have sideline-to-sideline linebackers like Alfred Thomas, who has offers from Washington, USF, Liberty and others, who can make open-field tackles. And they have one of the best defensive back groups — with UCF commit Jashad Presley and USF commit Maliki Wright — in the area.
What’s the one thing they don’t have? A 315-pound run-stuffer that makes a living plugging up gaps in the interior.
The opposition knew that and decided to build a game plan to go after it.
Plant is a team that has thrown the ball more than it has run it — 317 passes vs. 201 runs — this season. And it has done it effectively — accumulating 2,341 yards and 32 touchdowns through the air (compared to 1,290 yards and 23 TDs on the ground).
But against Dr. Phillips, it leaned heavily on 31-personnel formations (three backs and one tight end) that attacked the one aspect of the Panthers’ defense that could be exploited — the size on the defensive line.
Why am I saying any of this, though? Well, Dr. Phillips didn’t lose the game because it was a worse team. It lost the game because of the style of offense Plant played.
Three of Plant’s four touchdowns — including the overtime winner — came from its 31 formation, and the one TD that didn’t came from a 12-play, 64-yard opening drive during which 10 of the plays and 50 of the yards on that drive came from that 31 formation.
Overall, Plant ran the ball 26 times for 181 yards and threw the ball 23 times for 74 yards. That’s 255 total yards on 49 plays. And if you take out junior running back Waltez Clark’s three touchdown runs of 35, 27 and 10 yards, that’s 183 yards in 46 plays (3.98 yards a play).
Clark finished the night with 132 yards on 17 carries with the three TDs.
All-in-all, take no credit away from Plant. Its coaches came up with a great game plan, and its players executed that plan perfectly. But it doesn’t mean Plant was the better football team on Friday night.
And although Plant exploited the only hole on a very complete Dr. Phillips team, the Panthers still pushed the higher-seed team to overtime on the road.
Despite the season being over, a tip of the cap must be given to this Dr. Phillips team and to its coach, Rodney Wells.
The Panthers weren’t the lesser team. The style just made this fight.