TAMPA -- The morning after Plant’s 27-17 loss to Abilene, the talk was still on the game.
As I was getting ready to depart the Abilene Regional Airport Friday morning, the TSA agent – upon checking my ID and seeing I was from Florida – had a quick question.
“What did you think about the officiating last night,” he asked. “I’m taking an informal poll.”
I responded by questioning his question. What were people saying? He made it clear – hours after nation witnessed the Panthers lose to Abilene on ESPNU, the talk of the terminal was on questionable officiating.
Plant led 17-7 midway through the second quarter, but couldn’t put the Eagles away. Abilene scored 20 unanswered points, led by senior quarterback Ronnell Sims, who scored two second-half rushing touchdowns.
The Panthers had three big offensive gains called back just before and after halftime. Those flags served as major momentum swings, and seemed to open the door for Abilene.
“I'm not going to do that," Plant coach Robert Weiner said after the game when questioned about the refs after the game. "Despite the terrible officiating, we had a chance to win the game. We had a couple big plays that we had that we didn’t go get, and then you’re playing a very good football team, so they’re going to expose things. You can’t make that many mistakes and expect to win. It’s a shame that we came all the way to Texas and have that kind of experience.”
On Plant’s final drive of the first half, running back James Wilder made an incredible diving catch over the middle for a 46-yard gain on 2nd and 14 (Catch is at 0:56 below), but it was negated by an illegal motion penalty. The Panthers’ drive sputtered at the 3-yard line when quarterback Phillip Ely fumbled on the last play of the half.
Then on the Panthers’ first drive of the second half, Plant suffered two costly penalties. A 20-yard Wilder run into Abilene territory was called back for holding and then a 23-yard gain on a pass to Scott Greacen was flagged for offensive pass interference.
After that, Plant was never the same.
“Those were big plays,” Weiner said. “It’s just really difficult that every time you’re knocking on the door and you get something that looks good, it comes back in your face. And not only is it not good, but you’re in a much worse situation.
“I don’t think we got flustered. I just think it was a collective sigh. Your team has a body language letdown after that.”
Two Fridays ago, Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer had a controversial finish in Ohio playing hometeam Glenville on ESPN. Dwyer quarterback Jacoby Brissett appeared to score the would-be game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard plunge, but officials didn’t rule it a score and Dwyer lost 26-22.
Rivals.com high school senior analyst Dallas Jackson said Thursday’s officiating in Abilene was nothing like the Dwyer debacle.
"The officiating last night was no different than you would see in any game played in any state,” Jackson said. “These are high school officials and they miss plenty and this group certainly missed its fair share but I think it was evenly officiated. I think that Abilene may have gotten a few breaks but nothing even close to what happened to Dwyer. Plant had their chances to win and did not take advantage. They even got some major breaks from the referees on calls as well."
It definitely gave me something to think about on the plane ride back, but Weiner believes Plant will learn from the experience.
“There’s a little bit of a bitter taste in our mouths at the moment, but the main lesson from a teaching standpoint was to have a killer instinct,” Weiner said. “It was not only at those moments but it I really thought the team that was more physical was going to win the game. It was us early on. It wasn’t us late. You’ve got to play four quarters of the game. That’s something we’ll have to go to the drawing board with. I do think we’ll be better from this experience.”
-- EDUARDO A. ENCINA (firstname.lastname@example.org)