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Cotey: Murray as potent as ever

TAMPA — Debate over.

Aaron Murray started Friday night against Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer.

And why wouldn't he?

Oh sure, the left leg is still a little gimpy, and he sure looks a lot like Brett Favre running on and off the field.

But the arm?

Golden.

The heart?

Huge.

The first pass?

Touchdown.

"He's insane,'' said backup quarterback Phillip Ely.

"Crazy,'' said wide receiver DeAndre Queen.

"A warrior,'' said wide receiver Orson Charles.

A winner, too, as it turned out. Plant will play for its second state championship in three seasons after Friday's 33-21 victory over a game Dwyer team.

Some suggested turning the reins back over to Murray might disrupt team chemistry. Or that his future health might be imperiled by playing. Or that the Panthers had won every game they played without him, including last week's win over Armwood, so why change back now.

But if Murray was healthy, or even close to it, the decision was always a simple one: he plays. Murray completed 12 of 25 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns. That is a good quarter by Murray's usual standards, but can you even remember those?

After all, Friday's start was his first since Oct. 16, when he broke his left leg in a game against Hillsborough.

You don't return from a broken fibula in eight weeks. The doctors ruled him out for the season.

Even Murray, sitting on a bench with his leg in a cast and his teammates threatening to tickle his toes, admitted at Plant's first practice after the injury that his chances at returning were pretty bleak.

Aaron Murray usually doesn't do bleak.

Three weeks ago, he set the crutches aside and leaned against me to balance himself during a video shoot, then whispered that he'd be back.

"I'm going to play, if we make it to Armwood,'' he said.

We all laughed.

Well, not all of us.

But he was driven, he was determined, and while he didn't make it back for Armwood, he made it back Friday.

"What a courageous performance,'' said coach Bob Weiner. "This was a kid who had a sliver of hope. Just a little sliver.''

He could have accepted his fate. He's going to graduate this month. He has a full scholarship to Georgia, and the Bulldog faithful anxiously await his arrival.

Instead, he began practicing this week. He looked better every day. He reclaimed his starting job, and at 7:51 p.m. he trotted out to the huddle.

At 7:52, he threw his first pass.

Touchdown.

It was a play the Panthers had scripted, and after watching film of Dwyer, Weiner knew it would be the first one they ran.

"The coaches didn't tell us Monday,'' said Charles, "but we knew because we kept running it all week.''

As Charles drew the corner away to one side of the field, and Allen Sampson drew both safeties the other way, Queen found himself wide open in the slot and the pass was perfect.

"Not in my wildest dreams,'' said Murray, before realizing he dreams pretty big.

"Well, maybe …''

Murray wasn't perfect. No one for Plant was. The difference in the game, though, was how they were perfect enough, resilient enough when they needed to be.

Heck, even the great quarterback missed on seven straight passes at one point; he connected on his next three, however, including a touchdown to put the Panthers ahead early in the second half.

Marco Cobb, the diminutive running back, lost a fumble that led to a Dwyer touchdown; he scored twice after that.

Charles, so brilliant all season, dropped a few passes and mistimed his jumps on a few as well, but he was disruptive on defense down the stretch.

As a result, Plant will be favored next Saturday to win a second state title. It would be Murray's first — he was injured during the first one, when he was Robert Marve's backup.

But the leg?

Healed.

The swagger?

Back.

The smile?

Wide as can be.

John Cotey can be reached at johncotey@gmail.com

Cotey: Murray as potent as ever 12/13/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 4:58pm]
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