Senior quarterback Marvin Washington ran for two touchdowns and threw for another as the Panthers secured their first regional championship since 2012.
by Chris Mayer | Correspondant
DR. PHILLIPS Dr. Phillips High’s varsity football team is headed to the FHSAA Class 8A State Semifinals for the first time since 2012.
Senior quarterback Marvin Washington ran for two touchdowns and passed for another – all during a pivotal second quarter – and DP’s defense and special teams came up with big plays in the second half Friday to preserve a 34-24 victory over Vero Beach at Bill Spoone Stadium.
The Panthers, 11-2 overall and winners of eight consecutive games after back-to-back losses to Apopka and Mainland in September, captured the Region 2 title and advanced to play Seminole High in Sanford next Friday.
Vero Beach (11-1) entered the postseason undefeated and No. 3 in the Associated Press Class 8A state poll. The Fighting Indians proved to be a worthy challenger behind senior quarterback Mike Dean (who accounted for three touchdowns and unofficially completed 30-of-42 pass attempts) and senior wide receiver Michael Smith (40- and 29-yard scoring receptions).
“They [the Indians] were as good as advertised and they were much bigger than I thought they were from the film, but you can’t go 11-0 and you can’t have all the numbers that the quarterback has and the receivers have by chance,” Dr. Phillips head coach Rodney Wells said. “That’s probably the biggest, fastest and most physical receiver [Smith] that we’ve seen all season. They’re a really good team.”
Washington threw for more than 170 yards and was particularly efficient on third- and fourth-down situations for the Panthers. He helped direct the offense to touchdowns on each of its opening three drives as DP built a 20-10 halftime lead.
“The coaches told me all week to just take what the defense gives you and just read the defense,” Washington said. “I took advantage of that. The first half of the game they [the Indians] played zone and they gave us the flats, so we took the short 5- and 10-yard plays.”
Trailing 13-10 late in the first half, Vero Beach drove to the DP 22-yard line and faced 3rd-and-1. Akeem Dixon picked up enough on a rushing attempt for the first down, but Henry Caldwell recorded his fourth fumble recovery of the season as Dixon tried for extra yardage.
The Panthers promptly drove 85 yards in 11 plays, as Washington scored on an 8-yard run with 11 seconds remaining before halftime.
Key plays included Washington’s 11-yard pass to Je’Quan Burton on 3rd-and-8 from midfield, and a roughing the passer penalty on Vero Beach following a Washington-to-Emare Hogan completion on third down. Sterling Stockwell kicked the extra point to give the Panthers a 10-point advantage.
“They [the Indians] were moving the ball and it was tough to stop them, but Henry Caldwell came up with a big strip and fumble recovery and we went down and scored to make it a 10-point lead going into the half,” Wells said. “That was the probably the biggest sequence of the game.”
Kenny Palmer’s 5-yard touchdown run with 5:15 to go in the third quarter and Stockwell’s point after made it 27-10 for Dr. Phillips, which was making its fourth regional final appearance in five seasons. Stockwell’s 56-yard punt to open the fourth quarter pinned Vero Beach at its own 5-yard line and helped the Panthers win the field-possession battle for the final 12 minutes.
Special teams made another big contribution with just over 6 minutes remaining when the Indians fumbled a punt return and Jaquarri Powell recovered in the end zone for a DP touchdown. Vero Beach closed within 34-24 thanks to Dean’s 2-yard TD run with 3:12 left, but DP’s Arvis Evans recovered the ensuing onside kick and Dean was later sacked and lost a fumble with 38 seconds to go.
Dr. Phillips, which had two additional touchdowns nullified by penalties, took the lead for good at 13-10 with 4:41 remaining in the second quarter. Washington faked a throw to the perimeter and found Davarius Bargnare down the seam for a 27-yard touchdown.