FORT PIERCE — The Plant Panthers found themselves in an early hole a long way from home Friday night. But a strong effort over the final three quarters kept the team’s playoff push alive.
The Panthers trailed Fort Pierce Central by a touchdown after one quarter at Lawnwood Stadium, but rallied behind a strong running attack and a stout defense to beat the Cobras 17-7 in a Class 8A region final.
Running back Patrick Brooks led the way for the Panthers (11-1-1), scoring a touchdown rushing and receiving, and totaling 137 yards on the ground. On defense, Plant held the high-flying Cobra offense to 196 total yards and just one early touchdown.
After going up 10-7 at the half on a 24-yard field goal by Clarke Miller, Plant adjusted its offense in the second half by moving starting quarterback Colby Brown out wide and putting running back Alexander Jackson under center, allowing both Jackson and Brooks to contribute in the backfield.
“It was really a tremendous attack,” said Plant coach Robert Weiner, whose team will host Apopka next week with a chance to advance to the state title game. “We were able to eat up some clock as much as possible.
“Buddha (Jackson) is really a gamer for us and can play everywhere for us. We can move him into so many spots. To have him and Patrick Brooks back there …Patrick is amazing. When the lights come on, the kid’s so tough. You think he’s gliding, but he ends up being a power runner when it’s all said and done.”
After Central (10-2) went ahead on a short touchdown run by Billy Jolivert, Plant’s offense used Central’s defensive aggressiveness against it. Brown and most of his line rolled right on third and 25, then Brown tossed a screen pass across the field to Brooks, who rambled 29 yards for the tying score.
The teams traded punts in the third quarter, but an interception by Plant defensive back Derrick Baity gave the Panthers the ball at their own 31. Aided by a 36-yard pass to Jackson, Plant padded its lead when Brooks capped a seven-play, 69-yard drive with an 11-yard scoring run for a 17-7 edge.
“Every touchdown we scored was crucial points on the board. It was a fun game in front of a great crowd,” said Brooks, who iced the game on the next series with a 39-yard run on a pitch on second down as Central was trying to force a punt.
Central’s strong aerial attack and solid running game was stymied by Plant. The Cobras attempted fourth-down conversions six times, successfully converting four of them, including one on the Plant 36 that led to the home team’s only score with 3:30 left in the first quarter.
“We’re in the third round of the playoffs. We needed to try our best to convert. We were aggressive all season and it helped us. We wanted to continue that,” Cobras coach Josh Shaffer said.
“We had some trouble on first and second downs that did us in.”