TAMPA — In the hours before Hillsborough County’s rematch of the year, Plant two-way beast James Wilder Jr. got hyped but not hydrated. In a game rife with flags and fumbles, Wilder had only fumes.
“My body wasn’t running off anything,” said Wilder, who normally bypasses the pregame meal. “I started feeling light-headed, like I couldn’t see nothing.”
Faced with possibly sitting out the second half, Wilder ingested electrolytes and cold grilled chicken from the Tampa Bay Tech concession stands at halftime. Atonement followed nourishment.
With quarterback Phillip Ely hobbled by a reaggravated lower leg injury, Wilder became an offensive workhorse and defensive dynamo to help the Panthers preserve a 10-0 win and avenge last season’s 32-30 loss to the Titans.
“Whatever it is we put in him from the concession stand over here, we’ve got to bring their concession stand people over to our place because he came out like an animal,” said coach Robert Weiner, who watched Wilder recover a fumble and get two sacks in the last two minutes alone.
“He was all over the place.”
So were the penalty flags, tarnishing a highly anticipated sequel to the 2009 contest, in which TBT rallied from a 24-0 deficit. One year after the Surreality in South Tampa, Friday’s standing-room-only crowd witnessed the Sloppy Slugfest on Sligh Avenue.
The Panthers and Titans combined for five lost fumbles and 220 penalty yards — 105 coming in the first quarter. While the offenses bobbled and blundered, neither defense budged.
“It was just a tough, physical, gritty football game,” Weiner said. “We just had to continue to battle. … There was not a play that was not contested.”
The Panthers held TBT’s triple-option attack to 131 total yards, including 69 on the ground. But the offense wasn’t nearly as sharp.
Plant had its lone touchdown on its second possession, set up by a Titans fumble on their first offensive play. Ely capped the 62-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak. On the next Plant series, he fumbled while being tackled inside his 40, reinjuring the right leg he hurt last week. He sat out a series before returning but attempted only five passes the rest of the game and finished with 108 yards. He drove Plant inside the TBT 10 in the second before fumbling on a faulty handoff.
The Titans could capitalize neither on that break nor the Plant turnover on a mishandled punt that TBT recovered at the Panthers 19 in the third.
“Defensively we played well enough to win, but this is a team effort,” Titans coach C.C. Culpepper said. “The biggest thing is, we played four quarters of football, we figured out where we are, and we’re going to build on it.”