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Plant senior quarterback Phillip Ely will have a chance to win his third straight state championship Friday night. The question now, however, is if Ely will be on the field or watching from the sidelines.
Panthers coach Robert Weiner said Monday that Ely is still "on a day-to-day basis" with the same back injury that kept him out of Plant's 48-6 victory over Lakeland in the state semi-finals. He has progressed since last week, when he told the Times he felt "like a 90-year-old man," but his status will remain in question until later this week.
Weiner said Ely's "excruciating" pain is caused by tissue irritation and nerve tenderness.Ely dealt with a stress fracture in his back last year, and his doctors chose to treat that by strengthening the areas around the fractured L4 vertebra.
"He's come a long way since then," Weiner said. "He's making strides, but of course, we're trying to condense four weeks into one or two weeks here."
Ely probably won't practice Monday, Weiner said, and he will wait and see if his senior signal-caller is ready to go Tuesday. With Ely out, senior quarterback Nick Sanders will continue to take snaps with the first-team offense. Sanders has made two starts this year, a 20-13 win over Hillsborough and the rout of Lakeland, and Weiner said he trusted Sanders to manage the game for Plant if necessary.
"You take somebody like (Ely) out of the lineup, and it's an incredibly different deal," Weiner said. "But we have great confidence in Nick Sanders. He did such a tremendous job protecting the football, and he got us in the right spots and the right situations."
Head coach George Smith of St. Thomas Aquinas, which will face Plant on Friday in Orlando, said his team will prepare for both this week in practice. He also noted that Plant has had such a run of successful quarterbacks that there might not be a noticeable drop-off.
"It may be a different quarterback, but you're going to get probably a very base scheme that they run and execute very well," Smith said. "I don't know how much that changes, so we've just got to prepare with what we've seen and go from there."