It oozed of karma, as if this would finally be the Knights’ night against Plant. From the audience of thousands to the palpable pregame emotions to the sheer law of averages, Robinson appeared to have magic on its side.
Alas, the magician was on the other. He wore No. 14.
Facing second and long from the Knights’ 11 with less than three minutes to play, Plant quarterback Aaron Banks faked a handoff to his left, bootlegged right, reversed his field as defenders converged, darted up the middle and broke three tackles en route to the end zone.
“I thought we had him dead to rights,” Knights coach Mike DePue said.
With that, the team that hoped to provide a spectacle in their coach’s final regular-season home game had succumbed to one that’s no stranger to them.
Banks’ touchdown, and an ensuing four-and-out stand by his defense, preserved Plant’s 26-24 triumph before a standing-room-only throng at Peters Field.
“What a highlight play on that last run,” Panthers coach Robert Weiner said.
The Panthers (9-1) have won eight in a row against their rivals, who were seeking the program’s first undefeated regular season since 1963 for DePue, who’s retiring at the end of the school year.
“That was a high-tide, low-tide game,” said DePue, whose team had taken a 24-20 lead on quarterback Zain Gilmore’s 1-yard sneak with 8:15 to play.
“I thought maybe the karma was with us when they missed that extra point (after Banks’ TD). We didn’t hold them, we didn’t hold the lead when we should’ve.”
In a game teeming with ebbs and flows, the Knights successfully stared down adversity for the first time all year, but just happened to blink last against their foe.
Panthers senior Wesley Bullock’s 4-yard run on the second period’s second play gave Plant a 10-6 lead, and marked the first time the Knights (9-1) have trailed all year.
After Cody Hodgens missed a 32-yard field-goal attempt on Robinson’s ensuing possession, Banks (314 total yards) capped a 13-play drive with a 20-yard strike to junior Andrew Beck, giving the guests a 17-6 lead.
But Gilmore (213 total yards) answered with a 70-yard dash down the left sideline on a zone-read play to cut the hosts’ deficit to three. His 1-yard sneak midway through the fourth gave Robinson a 24-20 lead.
“We kept coming back on them,” DePue said. “I talked to the kids at halftime, I said that was the first time we’ve ever been behind, and that I want to see what a team that hadn’t faced any adversity could do.”
He also was exposed to what Banks could do. The final TD capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive in which either he or Bullock (121 rushing, 61 receiving yards) ran or passed for all of them.
“We had to get a touchdown and nothing was going to cut it besides a touchdown,” Banks said.
“I had that in my mind and I just wanted to work for my teammates and be able to score and get the game in our hands. … When it comes down to that moment, you’ve got to capture it and take the opportunity.”