TAMPA — Wesley Bullock and Plant's defense were more than enough on a night when penalties, a long storm delay and Wharton's stingy defense made things ugly.
Bullock took the opening kickoff 77 yards for a touchdown and Bernard Rogers returned a fumble for another score on the next play, and that was all the Panthers needed to hold off Wharton in a 27-7 victory Saturday night.
Bullock rushed for 94 yards, Colby Brown threw for 100 yards and a touchdown in his first start for Plant and the Panthers (4-1, 1-0) held Wharton to 164 yards of offense in the Class 8A District 6 opener for both teams.
"We basically took what they gave us," Bullock said. "It wasn't much, but it was enough to get us this win."
Plant, the defending 8A champions, seemed vulnerable to an upset as it was playing without starting quarterback Aaron Banks, who suffered a shoulder injury against Tampa Bay Tech.
Instead, Plant had a more conservative game plan against Wharton (3-2, 0-1) and got some help from a pair of big plays in the game's first 33 seconds.
Bullock fielded the short opening kick, ducked behind a three-man wedge and burst down the left sideline for a 77-yard score.
On the first play after the score, Chase Litton completed a short pass to DeAndre Washington, who fumbled while fighting for more yards. Rogers, a junior defensive back, scooped up the ball and took it in for a 23-yard touchdown.
Just like that, Plant had a cushion for their new quarterback, although Brown started as a freshman and sophomore at Orlando Olympia.
The Panthers played it safe nonetheless, placing a big share of the offense on Bullock and letting their defense harass Wharton's 6-foot-6 quarterback Litton into a subpar performance. Litton finished 11-of-39 for 122 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
"Our defense is resilient and relentless," Plant coach Robert Weiner said.
They had to be on a night when the Panthers had 16 penalties for 170 yards, at least eight of them on personal fouls. Many of those were late hits on Litton.
The game was rescheduled for Saturday after lightning strikes Friday forced officials to send everyone home. Lightning strikes Saturday caused another 2 1/2-hour delay during halftime.