The visiting Panthers came up big on special teams and defeated the host Seminoles 37-34 to advance to the state championship for the first time since 2010.
SANFORD A regulation game was not enough, nor was the first overtime.
In the end, it took two overtimes to send the Dr. Phillips football team to its first state championship appearance since 2010.
A made field goal by Panthers kicker Sterling Stockwell, followed by a missed field goal off the upright by the kicker for Seminole High, proved to be the difference in the FHSAA Class 8A State Semifinals, giving the Dr. Phillips the 37-34 victory in double-overtime.
As the ball landed on the field after bouncing off the upright on the Seminole kick attempt, the Panthers sideline exploded into jubilation as players sprinted in every direction after an emotional game no one will soon forget.
"It's a series of emotions — just to see these seniors advance and win that close (playoff game)," Dr. Phillips head coach Rodney Wells said. "They've been on the other end of one-point losses and two-point losses and three-point losses over the past three years. ... Now we get the chance to bring a state title home."
The victory was a come-from-behind effort for the Panthers, who had trailed by 11 points at halftime, 24-13.
Seminole (12-1) struck first on a touchdown pass from standout quarterback Kaylan Wiggins to Brenden Blyseth — the first of three touchdown passes for the Seminoles' signal caller. Dr. Phillips struck back when Tanner Ingle returned a punt 56-yards for a touchdown, with a missed extra point leaving the Panthers down 7-6.
A bruising 27-yard touchdown run by Kenny Palmer put Dr. Phillips ahead 13-6 midway through the second quarter, but that was followed by a swift momentum-swing in Seminole's favor.
First, Wiggins led a drive down the field that culminated in his connecting with UCF-commit Gabe Davis for a touchdown. That was followed by a recovered onside kick for the Seminoles. On the first play after the recovered kick, Wiggins again connected with Davis on a deep ball to put Seminole up 21-13.
A field goal just before halftime made the count 24-13, sending the Panthers to the locker room looking for a way to turn things around.
"It wasn't strategy —nothing was strategy," Wells said. "It was all in our heads. We were worried about the holder, we were worried about the refs, we weren't lined up right. ... We just changed our attitudes (in the second half)."
Seminole received the ball first in the second half, and on what was the one of the the most important drives of the game, senior defensive back D.J. Charles came up big. Charles intercepted a pass around the 35-yard line and returned it all the way to the end zone to cut the lead to four and reinvigorate the Dr. Phillips sideline.
"Our coach told us we've got to have fun, that we're not having fun," senior Emare Hogan said. "D.J. set the tone with the pick-six and after that we just kept rolling."
The Panthers got a stop on the next drive on defense. On the next offensive set, senior quarterback Marvin Washington connected with Hogan in the corner of the end zone for a go-ahead score that put Dr. Phillips up 27-24 midway through third.
"We were talking about taking a shot deep — we told the coaches just to trust us and we connected," Washington said.
A field goal by the Seminoles would tie the game before the end of third quarter to send the game to the fourth quarter tied at 27-27. After a scoreless fourth quarter, the state semifinal would head to overtime, where the two teams would take turns trying to punch it in from the 10-yard line.
In overtime, the Seminoles received the ball first, and Wiggins glided untouched into the end zone on first down. Luckily, Hogan did the same for the Panthers, taking a direct snap out of Dr. Phillips variation of the wildcat formation.
The second overtime saw the Panthers receive the ball first and drive down to the two-yard line on a strong run by Xandre McCleary, setting up a 19-yard field goal attempt that Stockwell converted. The Seminoles, who would drive down to the five-yard line after a strong set by the Panthers' defense, would not be so fortunate on a 22-yard field goal attempt.
The missed field goal ended an instant-classic contest.
"I've never played in a game like this — but, at the end of the day, this is what we practice for," senior defensive end Nick Smith said. "This is what we all play football for."
Amid the excitement, senior linebacker Dylan Meeks — who had missed most of the regular season with an injury — crouched and took it all in as the realization that he and his fellow members of Class of 2017 were the senior class to get the program back to the season's final game.
"It means a lot more than people would think," Meeks said. "I've spent thousands of hours with some of these guys."
Dr. Phillips (12-2) will now prepare to face Miami's Southridge High at 8 p.m. Dec. 10 in the FHSAA Class 8A State Championship at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
The team will get some film study in over the weekend, before returning to the practice field on campus Monday for one last week of practice.
"It's the happiest I've ever been to practice on a Monday," Smith said. "I'm just happy I've got another week of high school football."
Correspondent Nate Marrero contributed to this report.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].