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Cotey: National buzz now should follow Plant

Plant safety Eric Dungy intercepts the ball intended for Javares McRoy in the fourth quarter, icing the Panthers’ victory.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Plant safety Eric Dungy intercepts the ball intended for Javares McRoy in the fourth quarter, icing the Panthers’ victory.

LAKELAND — The torch passed Friday night, from one great football program to one that, for the moment, is greater.

Oh sure, Plant still doesn't have the national zing of Lakeland. ESPN may not come calling just yet. Games in Ohio and California and Texas may still be a ways off.

But it happened. It happened in surprisingly dominating fashion, too. With 5:27 remaining in a Class 5A state semifinal Lakeland was supposed to win, Bryant Stadium sprung a leak, bleeding orange and black onto North Florida Avenue.

Plant 20, Lakeland 0.

• • •

It was the best win in school history. The biggest? We'll leave the 2006 and 2008 state championships there, for now.

This? The best.

In 2006, they won a state title against a very good Nease team that had just graduated Tim Tebow. In 2008, they beat a Lincoln team that had three losses.

Friday night, they beat a team with six state titles, two national championships, a bevy of recruits headed for BCS schools and a No. 6 national ranking.

"Not many people gave us a shot and it's amazing that we win two out of three state championships and were still in that position as the ultimate underdog," said Plant coach Robert Weiner.

Plant as "ultimate underdogs" may strike some as funny. Robert Marve and Aaron Murray are once-in-a-lifetime quarterbacks, and Weiner has had both of them. Orson Charles transferred in last year and carried the Panthers to a title. James Wilder Jr. — who may be without peer as the most complete football player in the area, and after we're through this postseason, probably the state — transferred in this season.

Maybe what Weiner meant to say was despite two state titles in three years, there was still a program right up the road that was considered better, a place he could take his team where they didn't give a darn about who his quarterback was or how many games they had won.

The Dreadnaught fans probably still don't care. But they'd better get used to the Panthers as long as the teams share a region.

You have to love Lakeland's lore, but right now there's nothing better going than Plant, which has officially, emphatically arrived on the national scene.

• • •

You have to go back to Elijah Dukes to find the last time a Hills­borough County school scored a win this big against Lakeland.

It was 2001, and Dukes ran for two first-half touchdowns, including an 80-yarder, out of Hillsborough's wishbone in a 26-7 win at Bryant Stadium.

Such wins have been far and few between, Lakeland's juggernaughts casting a long shadow over their neighbors to the east.

The daunting surroundings never fazed Plant. The scoreboard didn't seem so obnoxious, the Panthers mocked the play-list of silly, braggadocio-filled rap songs, and does anyone even remember hearing the bell ring?

The Panthers came out and jammed it down Lakeland's throat on the first drive, scoring when Wilder and the rest of the town plowed in from 15 yards.

The rest of the night, the Dreadnaughts offense ran into Wilder and guys like Matt Suarez, David McCarthy, Mike Mirabella and everyone else on the Panthers' impenetrable defense.

It was a perfect effort.

A perfect passing of the torch.

UP NEXT

State finals

At the Citrus Bowl, Orlando

2B: Tampa Catholic vs. Jacksonville Bolles, 1 p.m. today. TV: Sun Sports

5A: Plant vs. Manatee, 7 p.m. Friday

On tampabay.com/home

team: We'll be blogging live from the 2B final today.

Cotey: National buzz now should follow Plant 12/12/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 12, 2009 12:38am]
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