VALDOSTA , GA. — Known for its usually prolific offenses, Plant struggled to move the ball early in its season opener against Lowndes.
The Panthers were cited with a delay-of-game penalty before they could even get off their first play from scrimmage, and they had negative yardage to show for their first two drives.
Plant's defense kept it in the game — leading, even — for most of the night, forcing Lowndes to attempt four field goals, three of which the Vikings missed.
But the Panthers' grave lack of offense came back to bite them in the fourth quarter, when a high snap on a punt landed in the end zone, and Lowndes jumped on it for a touchdown. Plant tied the score moments later, but the Vikings responded with a winning, 80-yard touchdown drive to prevail 20-14.
Lowndes, fueled by its run game, had no trouble moving the ball, capping a 31-yard drive with a 36-yard field goal on its first possession.
While Plant continued to have trouble on offense — it picked up just two first downs and the Vikings forced four three and outs in the first half — the Panther defense was the star of the night.
Time after time, Plant's offensive woes gave Lowndes good field position, but the Vikings couldn't seem to find the end zone. The Vikings attempted two more field goals but missed both.
Plant took a 7-3 lead into the locker room after Jordan Reed completed a 76-yard half-back pass to Derrick Baity for a touchdown late in the second quarter. But early in the second half, it was much of the same for Plant offensively.
On Plant's second drive, Culpepper threw his first pick on third and long, and Lowndes immediately took advantage of the miscue, stringing together six first downs on the ensuing drive. Once again, the Plant defense stepped up, forcing Lowndes to attempt a 36-yard field goal, which it missed.
The visibly exhausted Panther defense was in desperate need of a break. But they wouldn't get one.
On the first play of Plant's next drive, Reed was stripped and Lowndes took over at the 18-yard line, soon scoring a field goal to come within one.
After jumping on the ball in the end zone for its first touchdown of the night in the fourth quarter, Lowndes converted a two-point conversion to take a seven-point lead.
Things finally seems to click for the Panthers on their next possession, and Culpepper connected with Reed for a 23-yard game-tying touchdown. Lowndes, though, had one more drive left in it, and running back Brian Bell scored the winner on a 3-yard run.
Coach Robert Weiner said he was proud of his defense for keeping them in the game till the bitter end. "The number of times they had a short field and our defense made the stop was just amazing," he said. Still, he couldn't expect perfection.
"We can't stop them every single time in the game," he said.