TAMPA — It was a chilly 59 degrees at Wildcat Stadium, and Plant coach Robert Weiner, just doused with a cooler full of water, was dripping wet. But the last thing on Weiner’s mind was how cold he was.
With a 46-13 win against Wharton on Friday, the Panthers were once again district champions. It was the ninth straight for Plant (7-1, 4-0 Class 8A, District 6), but the smile on his face looked as if it came from a first-timer.
“I don’t think you ever get used to it,” Weiner said.
The district clincher wasn’t supposed to be as easy as it was. Plant’s Colby Brown entered with 1,532 passing yards, Wharton’s Chase Litton with 1,600. The night was supposed to be a showcase of quarterbacks with big arms.
But soon after kickoff, it appeared only one got the invitation.
The Panthers scored quickly. Brown found a leaping Austin Hudson in the corner of the end zone for an 8-yarder.
That first score, Weiner said, set the tone.
“He gives a pulse to this team every game,” Weiner said of Brown, who finished with 177 passing yards.
“Even a game like this, when we come and it was real quiet everywhere to begin with, he gives us that life. I think that (drive is) what sparked us the whole way.”
Wharton’s first drive would be its longest of the night, but it ended with consecutive broken up passes. One haunted Plant defensive back Derrick Baity.
The Plant offense teased the defense all week about its lack of interceptions. So when Litton threw the ball deep on third and 15, Baity tried to pick it off, but the ball fell to the ground.
“I’ve got to get it back for my team,” Baity said he told himself.
On Litton’s first pass of the second quarter, he did.
With 8:32 to go before halftime and Plant leading 14-0 after it tacked on a pair of field goals, Baity intercepted Litton at the Wharton 25.
He looked up, saw an open path to the end zone and ran for the first defensive touchdown of his career.
The Panthers went on to add three more touchdowns, two from Fletcher Barnes, before halftime, and the final one on a 60-yard punt return by Scoop Bradshaw in the fourth quarter.
But perhaps the stars of the night were the ones keeping the points off the board, not putting them on. Plant held Litton to just 37 yards passing in the first half, after which the Wildcats (6-3, 2-2) trailed 35-0.
“I don’t think he’s played a defensive line like the Panthers,” Baity said. “They were feasting on him. They were getting at him, and he had to get rid of the ball.”
Litton finished with 165 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But by the time he found his rhythm, it was too late.
After the game, Weiner was quick to commend the hard work of his team, which celebrated on the field around him. But he also couldn’t forget about district titles one through eight, which paved the way for Friday.
“Nine straight says what I tell them all the time,” he said.
'We’ve been standing on the shoulders of giants.’ ”