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Suspense kills them, but Plant High fans stay alive

Fourth quarter. Three minutes left. Nease High just went up 21-17 on Robert Marve and the boys from Plant.

Inside the Press Box on Dale Mabry Highway, fingers drum on tables. Legs twitch. Dane Orihuela, 14, up by the big screen, makes the sign of the cross. "That's what I did in the semifinals," he says. "And it worked."

All day they've talked about Marve.

"You watch him play," says Matt Money, a businessman who lives in South Tampa, "and this kid is incredible."

They all came to see this. Plant High, first time ever, in the state championship.

"You always follow them," says Jeff Jennings, Class of '83. "But this year it's something special."

For Plant people, South Tampa is like a small town tucked into a big city. Marc MacKinnon, Class of '89, bumps into his buddies at the gym. Same for his brother Grady, Class of '87.

"South Tampa people," says Marc, "have a sense of pride."

That's why they came.

Now, though, with a few minutes left and the team trailing by four, nerves are shot. A man in a suit and tie stands next to a man in cutoff jeans.

Marve, a kid who hasn't even been to his senior prom, starts the drive. Complete pass. Again.

Clock's ticking.

Again. Down the field they go.

The kid can't miss. The Panthers are nearing the end zone.

"This has been a success story for the city of Tampa," says the man on the TV.

"I can't take it," says Eileen Pelaez, Class of '71.

The whole place is on its feet. Ball's on the 5-yard line. Marve takes the snap. Drops back. Throws.

Mindy Fisher, whose kid goes to Plant, jumps into Bob Nagel's arms. The MacKinnon brothers put their hands in the air. Dane Orihuela jumps from his seat. Eileen Pelaez looks like she's going to pass out.

Plant High School wins the state championship.

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