TAMPA — Two rival football teams left Dad’s Stadium and drove into the playoffs Thursday night in much different directions.
On their homefield, Plant players hoisted the silver South Tampa Bowl trophy, given to the winner of the annual battle between the Panthers and Robinson.
For the Knights, it might have been the longest 10-minute bus ride south of Gandy Boulevard.
The annual regular-season finale between the South Tampa rivals always contains its share of hullabaloo. And Thursday was no different. Black and gold balloons celebrated Plant’s senior night. The pre-Veterans Day game paid honor to the armed forces. And Plant coach Robert Weiner, named to coach in the Army All-American Game in January, was scheduled to be honored at the half.
But with distractions flying through the air, it was the Panthers that provided the fireworks once the game started.
In the game’s first 10:30, Plant (9-1) scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams and shocked its neighbor to the south with a debilitating 51-9 thumping of Robinson. It was Plant’s seventh straight win over its neighborhood rival.
“I told our kids, there will be a lot of hoopla and somewhere in between there will be a football game,” Weiner said. I think they were just so excited to play. Our kids didn’t take anything lightly and came in ready to play.”
Plant wide receiver Dereck Mann scored three touchdowns, two in the first eight minutes. The senior caught the first of three James Few touchdown passes from 24 yards out to open the scoring with 5:53 left in the first, then following a Robinson three-and-out returned a punt 88 yards to put Plant up 15-0.
On Robinson’s next possession, safety Paris Bostick put Plant up 23-0 with a 62-yard interception return for a touchdown.
It didn’t get any better for Robinson (8-2), which committed four first-half turnovers. Plant receiver Austin Aikens caught a deflected Few pass in the end zone for another touchdown. And another Bostick interception set up Mann’s third touchdown on a 6-yard pass from Few.
“That’s the wildest first half I might have ever seen,” Robinson coach Mike DePue said. “Everything that could go wrong for us did. I’m actually furious. We’re a much better football team than this. I’m not happy.”