TAMPA — Plant’s offense turned out to be its worst defense Friday night. Fortunately for the Panthers, their actual defense turned in one of its best performances of the season.
Spoto scored three touchdowns on defense — two pick-sixes and a fumble return — but Plant’s defense allowed only 130 total yards and a two-point conversion, shutting down the Spartans’ high-powered aerial attack en route to a 36-20 win.
“We never got into a rhythm offensively,” Spoto coach Dale Caparaso said. “Good football teams do that to you. What am I going to do, yell at our guys because Plant shut us down? That’s a great football team.”
The Spartans (5-2) started strong, dragging down James Wilder Jr. 11 yards behind the line of scrimmage and forcing a short punt that gave them great field position. But faced with a first and goal from the 3-yard line, Plant’s defense held and forced a turnover on downs.
Plant (5-2) went to halftime with a 15-0 lead thanks to two big passing touchdowns from Philip Ely, who finished with 247 yards through the air and four total touchdowns despite throwing two interceptions returned for touchdowns. The first TD came on a 48-yard strike to Austin Aikens and the second on a 32-yard pass to Daniel Casselli.
Spoto scored the first of its three defensive touchdowns three minutes into the second half, when Tyron Baker picked off Ely’s pass and ran it back 60 yards to cut Plant’s lead to nine.
Eric Patterson responded immediately with a 96-yard kickoff return, going untouched — and doing his best Deion Sanders impression the final few yards — to put the Panthers ahead 22-6.
Patterson was also largely responsible for limiting the Spartans’ offense. He lined up opposite Baker, the county’s leading receiver, and helped hold him to just five receptions for 25 yards.
“No. 22’s his best receiver, so we just put our best people on him and shut him down,” Patterson said. “It was easy because they kept running fly routes, so we already knew they were coming. They would just throw the ball up there, and we would have to make a play.”
Ely threw for a touchdown and ran for another in the fourth, but Danny Taylor returned an interception 61 yards for a score and Donald
Smith had a 75-yard scoop and score to keep the lead at 16.
Spoto had a chance to make it interesting in the final minutes, as the defense recovered a fumble by Plant’s second-team offense, but the Panthers’ defense again held to preserve the victory.
“Coach said if they don’t get any points, they don’t win,” Patterson said. “And at least we held them to no points on defense.”