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Raiders brace for quarterfinals against powerhouse Plant

Plant City High’s Dazmond Patterson (28) fends off Durant High’s Josh Halferty during a game in October. Patterson is one of the best all-purpose backs in the county, the Raiders coach says.

BRIAN BLANCO | Special to the Times

Plant City High’s Dazmond Patterson (28) fends off Durant High’s Josh Halferty during a game in October. Patterson is one of the best all-purpose backs in the county, the Raiders coach says.

PLANT CITY — Plant, Plant, Plant.

Teams that have stepped into Dad's Stadium over the past few years have been showered by that daunting, taunting chant coming from Plant's vocal student section.

Playing the Panthers is never an easy task. Facing them in their unique South Tampa stadium where the spectators feel close enough to be in the huddle ratchets up the difficulty level even that much more.

"It's a tough place, there's no question," Plant City coach Wayne Ward said. "We're going to have to be on top of our game at all times."

The Raiders get a second chance to erase the memory of last year's first-round thumping against Plant tonight when they travel to face the Panthers at 7:30 in the region quarterfinals.

"We need to play our best football if we want to have a chance," Ward said. "That means no turnovers and eliminating penalties. Plant is too good."

Indeed, the Panthers have been one of the state's most dominant teams in recent years, winning three state titles in the past four seasons. The Panthers have been ranked nationally at various times throughout the year and are currently No. 7 in the Associated Press Florida 5A Poll.

"They've proven they know how to win consistently," Ward said. "And we're trying to build that as a program. We've got to learn to play with that type of consistency."

The Panthers blasted the Raiders 59-14 on the way to their second consecutive state title last season. But Ward has shied away from talking too much about last year's game at this week's practice.

"That was last year," Ward said. "They're a different team and so are we."

While graduation has reshaped both clubs somewhat, there is still star power all over the field on both sides. Plant City features the electrifying Dazmond Patterson and FSU-bound offensive lineman Jordan Prestwood.

"In my opinion, Dazmond is one of the best, if not the best, all-purpose back in the county," Ward said. "You have guys who do certain things very well, but Dazmond can do all of them well."

Plant counters with a pretty good running back of its own in James Wilder Jr. Wilder, who will join Prestwood at FSU next year, is one of the most sought-after recruits in the nation. Add quarterback Phillip Ely, who will play for Alabama next year, into the mix and it's easy to see why the Panthers have three-peat in mind.

"(Wilder) is an amazing player," Ward said. "He's a walking highlight film."

It has been a tumultuous first year for Ward, a Raider graduate who went on to play with Michael Vick at Virginia Tech.

The Raiders came into this season with high expectations, lost highly rated starting quarterback Bennie Coney to suspension midway through the year and wrapped up the regular season with a 63-21 loss to Jefferson.

"It's been a roller coaster ride," Ward said. "It's been like Gwazi around here, but we're looking forward to getting to the top (tonight)."

Raiders brace for quarterfinals against powerhouse Plant 11/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 18, 2010 3:30am]
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