LAKE BUENA VISTA — For a minute, it seemed like the Dr. Phillips Panthers had things right where they wanted them.
The Panthers Unlimited team (14-and-under) — which had won a thrilling 22-18 victory in the opening round of the Pop Warner Super Bowl — trailed the Everett (Mass.) Crimson Tide at halftime of the tournament’s semifinals, 24-8, but scored just before the half and had the momentum coming out of the break.
Dr. Phillips took advantage of that momentum and did not let the Crimson Tide score another point, but a couple things did not go the Panthers’ way and they would end up coming up just short, falling 24-22.
“All season, just like our last game, this team has no quit,” Mara said. “They knew they were down, but they knew they would come back — and they did. …
“I would say 10 percent (of the success in the second half) was the adjustments we (coaches) made and the rest of it was these kids figuring out a way to stop (Everett) out there on their own.”
Caleb McMillan scored a pair of second half touchdowns for Dr. Phillips and Parker Mara picked off two passes on defense — including one with 6:50 to play that gave the Panthers a chance to take the lead.
That drive, though, would stall out on a 4th-and-4 where many supporters for Dr. Phillips felt a defender for Everett had jumped offsides.
Another call that did not go the Panthers’ way came a little later, with about two minutes to play, as the Crimson Tide went for it on fourth down looking to secure the win. The play was close, but the ball was spotted favorably for Everett and, since Dr. Phillips had no more timeouts, the Crimson Tide were able to run out the clock.
Despite the loss, the Panthers will get one more chance to compete at the Super Bowl, which has been all week at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports. Dr. Phillips will take on the La Jolla (Calif.) Torreys at 9 a.m. on Saturday in a battle for third place in the nation.
“It will be nice because we can hopefully walk off that field Saturday with a win so we can end the season on a win,” Mara said. “These players all deserve to walk off this field with a smile on their face, excited after a victory.”