VALDOSTA , GA. — Known for its usually prolific offenses, Plant showed with a late snap of the ball on the very first play it’d be anything but in its season opener against Lowndes.
A delay of game penalty and negative yards of offense were all the Panthers had to show for their first two drives Friday at Martin Stadium. The defense, though, kept Plant in the game — leading, even — for most of the night, keeping Lowndes out of the end zone early and forcing the Vikings to attempt five field goals.
But the Panthers’ severe lack of offense for the first three quarters came back to bite them in the fourth, when a high snap on a punt landed in the end zone, and Lowndes jumped on it for a touchdown. Plant tied the score moments later, but the Vikings responded with an 80-yard touchdown drive to win the game, 20-14.
“We kept putting ourselves in bad situations at the beginning of drives that would ruin drives,” coach Robert Weiner said about his offense.
Lowndes, which employs a run-heavy offense, moved the ball easily in its first drive, capping it with a 36-yard field goal. Those three points, though, would be the only ones the Vikings could muster until the 9:43 mark of the fourth quarter.
While Plant continued to have trouble on offense — it finished with 33 rushing yards and quarterback Rex Culpepper completed 5 of 15 passes for 41 more — the Panther defense was the star of the night.
Time after time, Plant’s offensive woes gave Lowndes good field position, but the Vikings couldn’t do anything with it. They missed two field goals in the second quarter and one in the third.
Plant’s offense had just 25 yards to speak of before Jordan Reed connected with Derrick Baity for a 76-yard half-back pass for a touchdown, which gave Plant a 7-3 lead head at the half. But immediately after the break, it was much of the same for Plant offensively.
The Panthers had two turnovers in the third quarter — one on a Culpepper pick on third and long and another on a Jordan Reed fumble. The Vikings turned the latter into three points, making a 20-yard field goal, but it wouldn’t be long before they’d finally make it into the end zone after Plant’s bobbled snap, and a two-point conversion gave Lowndes a 14-7 lead.
With less than 10 minutes to play, something finally seemed to click for the Plant offense. Patrick Brooks, who finished with 34 yards rushing, strung together a couple runs, setting up a Culpepper 23-yard touchdown pass to Reed to tie.
“Our offense did a tremendous job of putting us back in the game,” Weiner said. “It was 14-7 and it looked like we were out of it, then we come straight down the field and score again.”
Lowndes, though, had one more burst left in it, and running back Brian Bell capped a long drive with a 3-yard touchdown run, less than a minute remaining.
Weiner said he was proud of his defense for keeping Plant in the game till the bitter end.
“The number of times they had a short field and our defense made the stop was just amazing,” he said.
Still, he couldn’t expect perfection.
“We can’t stop them every single time in the game.”