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Plant Panthers bring home Class 4A football title

Plant receiver Orson Charles peeks back on his way to a 72-yard touchdown in the second quarter that puts Plant up 14-0 on Tallahassee Lincoln.


Plant receiver Orson Charles peeks back on his way to a 72-yard touchdown in the second quarter that puts Plant up 14-0 on Tallahassee Lincoln.

Golden arm

Plant quarterback Aaron Murray broke former Jefferson QB Stephen Garcia's career record for touchdown passes to become Hillsborough County's all-time leader with 84. And Murray did it despite missing seven games this season.

Player, TDs by year

2004 2005 2006

Garcia 26 28 29

2007 2008

Murray 51 33

Online extras

Check out a photo gallery and video highlights from Saturday's final, complete with an appearance by Tony Dungy — oh, yes — on the final Friday Night Rewind of 2008 at


Their season dawned with January conditioning, segued into spring drills, then transitioned into the sweltering months when they won a national tournament in seven-on-seven football. It finally ended Saturday at the Florida Citrus Bowl, where for most of the first half it looked as if they were playing 11-on-7. And rest assured, that Class 4A state title the Plant Panthers won Saturday in Orlando, overwhelming Tallahassee Lincoln 34-14, was infinitely sweeter than the national one they claimed in Oregon. If for no other reason than what transpired in between crowns. During this latest improbable journey, the Panthers (14-1) lost a Division I quarterback prospect for a spell, gained a defensive identity for a change, and discovered how

far resilience, heart and faith can carry a corps of young men.

"It's really special," Plant fifth-year coach Bob Weiner proclaimed moments after clinching his program's second state title in three Decembers.

"We lose maybe the best player in the nation (quarterback Aaron Murray) in the seventh game of the season, and we have a sophomore (Phillip Ely) who comes in and leads us for seven games into the state semifinals, and then Murray comes back and plays like a superstar these two games."

Murray, making his second straight start since returning from a broken fibula in his left leg, was among a constellation of Panthers stars Saturday.

The defense, which spent the playoffs transforming the Panthers' image from that of a finesse team to a ferocious one, held Lincoln (11-4) to 45 first-half yards as Plant built a 28-0 halftime lead.

The highlight: senior linebacker Beau Hume (nine tackles, three sacks) stepping in front of a short pass intended for Javorius Allen and returning it for a 24-yard touchdown that gave Plant a 21-0 lead.

"Again, back to when Aaron Murray went out (Oct. 16), our defense was really great, but then they didn't let anybody do anything," Weiner said. "It was complete shutdown."

Lincoln, which entered averaging nearly 200 rushing yards, finished with 47. Its first four drives netted 13 yards.

"Everybody came out to play hard today," said linebacker Mike Mirabella, who notched one of Plant's six sacks. "And we set a tone early in the game and let them know they weren't going to move the ball."

Murray, meantime, completed the unlikely resuscitation of his prep career, which appeared flatlined when he left the Hillsborough game on a golf cart.

Though admittedly still not 100 percent, Murray (18-for-30, 344 yards) played virtually the whole game and threw three touchdowns. The last, a 14-yard slant to Orson Charles with 1:52 to play, gave him 84 for his career, breaking Jefferson alum and current South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia's Hillsborough County record.

That historic touchdown throw was preceded by a pair of surreal ones. On a second-quarter sideline route to Charles, the defender gambled, lunging in front of Charles for the pick with no safety behind him. Charles simply turned and raced 72 yards for a score.

Then on the first half's final play from scrimmage, Murray connected down the left sideline with Nathan Marvel, who broke the tackle of defensive back D'Vonte Graham and dashed 72 yards for the score that made it 28-0.

"(Murray) put it where it needed to be, and I just kept my legs moving," Marvel said.

Later, Marvel and each of his teammates climbed a small makeshift podium and accepted their state title medals. Each individual ascension bore symbolism.

One last time in this turbulent, tumultuous title season, each and every Panther stepped up.

"We talked to our guys, 'Who's going to step up and who's going to back away from the challenge?' " said Murray, who starts classes Jan. 8 at the University of Georgia.

"And I thought we definitely stepped up to the challenge today and just had a great day."

Plant 34

Lincoln 14

Plant Panthers bring home Class 4A football title 12/20/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 22, 2008 11:18am]
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