TAMPA — Alex “Buddha” Jackson stood on the sideline at Dads Stadium — a place with which he’s not too familiar when Plant’s offense is on the field — and stared blankly.
Plant trailed Orlando Dr. Phillips by a touchdown in the fourth quarter of its second-round playoff game. Jackson’s emotions had gotten the best of him on the field, wide receivers coach T.J. Lane said, so Lane took Jackson out to let him cool down.
As the game progressed, Lane noticed a sulking Jackson. So he approached him, the Panthers’ season hanging by a thread, and gave him a pep talk.
“The phrase is ‘come back to me,’ ” Lane said. “If you’re going to go off the deep end, it’s no big deal. Just come back to me.”
That was all Jackson needed to hear. Moments later, Jackson, back in the game where he said he belonged, was on the receiving end of Colby Brown’s game-tying 8-yard touchdown pass with 33 seconds to go in regulation.
Plant and Dr. Phillips both scored touchdowns in overtime, but the Plant defense stopped Dr. Phillips on its two-point conversion attempt for the 24-23 victory.
An elated coach Robert Weiner admitted he thought about going for the risky two-point conversion himself following Jackson’s touchdown at the end of regulation. But trusting his offense on its home turf, he thought better of it.
“In a go for it or not go for it situation, I don’t think I’ve ever not gone for it,” Weiner said laughing. “This time it worked out, and this is the only time that matters right now.”
In the second quarter, Brown handed the ball off to Jackson on first and 10 at the Dr. Phillips’ 44-yard line. For a player not used to getting stopped by the first tackler, that got under his skin.
On the next play, Brown handed to Jackson again. He ran 44 yards for a touchdown, putting Plant up 10-0.
Plant went into the break up 10-7 after allowing an 83-yard Deionte Gaines touchdown with less than a minute to go in the half.
Plant, which was penalized 17 times, struggled to move the ball in the second half, while Dr. Phillips scored on a 29-yard pass to Gaines in the third quarter.
With 2:41 left in regulation Plant got the ball back, trailing 17-10. And just when things looked bleak for the Panthers — third and 15 at their 3-yard line — Brown connected with Fletcher Barnes, in for Jackson, on a 55-yard pass.
It was just enough to set up Jackson’s redemption score.
“Everybody looks at me every week to do something for the team,” said Jackson, who finished with 101 yards. “I just stayed in it for the team.”
As the Panthers celebrated at midfield, Jackson looked almost in disbelief as he pulled a Plant snap-back hat on his head. Both he and the Panthers were almost down for the count. But somehow, with no time to spare, they found their way back.
“To see him tank … then score the game winner,” Lane said, “it was like, okay, he came back to me.”