TAMPA — Ideally, Plant coach Bob Weiner would have liked quarterback Phillip Ely to have about 17 quarters under his belt entering tonight's showdown at Armwood.
Instead, Ely has 17 snaps.
A back stress fracture kept the 6-foot junior, who went 7-0 as a starter last season when Aaron Murray broke his leg, sidelined until last week's game at Riverview. Operating on a predetermined "pitch count" against the Sharks, Ely completed 6 of 10 passes for 77 yards.
Hardly the amount of live reps one might hope for entering the annual game of the century. Only natural then that Weiner might see Ely show a little rust. He just hopes it's complemented by resilience.
The goal, Weiner said, is for Ely to go the distance tonight.
"He got his feet splashing in the water a little bit (at Riverview)," Weiner said. "But when you play Armwood you're jumping in the ocean. The great thing about him football-wise is he's been there before."
Indeed, Ely's mettle was on display at home last season against Armwood, even if his accuracy (10-for-27, 158 yards, two TDs, one INT) wasn't. With Murray watching, Ely guided the Panthers to a 17-14 triumph in the Class 4A region semifinals, paving the way for Murray's return the following week.
Ten months later, Weiner says Ely's grasp of the system and instinctiveness is at another level. Physically, Weiner says Ely's not 100 percent and may not be all season, but the injury is such that it likely won't be aggravated further.
"Obviously those other guys have done a great job while he's been gone, but Phillip has done a great job while he's been injured, working with them and getting them up to being ready," Weiner said. "I think the positive for Phillip is, when you teach something you have to know it better than you knew it before.
"It seemed like his time out has given him more instincts and understanding of what he needs to do."