TAMPA — Jefferson fumbled away the ball on its second play of the game. Plant scored three plays later.
Jefferson fumbled away the ball on its seventh play of the game. Plant scored three plays later.
Just like that, any thought that the Panthers would struggle to rebound from their worst defeat in eight years seemed preposterous.
Aaron Banks threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns, Wesley Bullock rushed for two more scores and Plant burnished its credentials as a strong rebounding team, rolling to a 53-20 win over Jefferson on Friday night at Dads Stadium.
“This just verified how I hoped they would respond,” said Panthers coach Robert Weiner.
Under the best circumstances, the Panthers (2-1) are a difficult opponent to face after one of their rare defeats under Weiner.
Coming into Friday’s game, Plant had outscored opponents by a combined total of 276-70 following a loss since 2007. That’s an average of 46-12 over six games.
But after an unusually lopsided — and punishing — defeat last week at nationally ranked John Curtis Christian in New Orleans, Plant seemed ripe for a letdown against Jefferson.
Banks and Bullock were knocked out of the game against Curtis and the Panthers were missing senior linebacker Reeves Rogers, who was suspended for a game by the Florida High School Athletic Association for an illegal hit in the same game. Offensive tackle
Richy Klepal also sat out another game with symptoms stemming from a concussion sustained during practice two weeks ago.
None of it seemed to matter once the whistles blew Friday.
Jefferson quarterback Deiondre Porter twice lost the ball on snaps in the first seven plays, giving Plant possession deep in Dragons territory.
Bullock followed each turnover with touchdown runs of 14 and 21 yards, putting Jefferson in an early 15-point hole.
Then Plant’s defense took over, forcing a three-and-out and interception that further put the game out of reach. Banks’ 65-yard touchdown pass to Austin Hudson early in the second quarter extended Plant’s lead to 32-0.
“A lot of things happened right off the bat … we killed ourselves,” Jefferson coach Jeremy Earle said. “And we knew Plant was going to be well-coached coming off a loss.”
Porter finished 18-of-39 for 235 yards and two touchdowns. The junior quarterback later got into a rhythm and led the Dragons on a couple of scoring drives that gave Earle hope that his young team, which has 16 first-year starters, will have a rebound of its own during district play.
“It’s evident that we’ve got the players,” Earle said.