LAKELAND — Multiple times in the third quarter of Plant's 7A region final against Lakeland, it appeared as if the Panthers were down and out. The Dreadnaughts, fueled by four-star running back Demarkcus Bowman, took a lead early in the game, and they couldn't seem to be stopped on the ground all night.
But after halftime, as Lakeland continued to rely on Bowman's feet, Tucker Gleason's arm kept Plant in the game, as he had three touchdown passes for 169 yards in the third quarter alone.
"It comes down to, this is Plant. Whenever we put the Ps on our helmets and we go out, we get taped up, put on our uniforms, we're going to war," offensive and defensive lineman Will Putnam said. "We're going to fight until the end, no matter if we're down by six or up by 20."
In the end, though, no amount of fight from the Panthers could overcome Lakeland's 420 rushing yards, and the Dreadnaughts ran away with the game in the fourth quarter on the way to a 49-30 victory.
Plant, which came into the matchup with Lakeland (14-0) averaging 250 rushing yards per game, had 105 yards on the ground in the first half, 57 of which came from Gleason on a run that set up a Plant field goal. Lakeland went into halftime up 14-3.
After the break, Plant (11-2) only had 35 rushing yards for the rest of the night, as Walter Wilbon, who came in with a team-leading 1,477 rushing yards on the season, kept getting stopped short.
"We tried to get it going in the beginning, but they kept bringing their safeties down, which is what allowed us to get the ball thrown down the field," coach Robert Weiner said about Plant's run game. "You just have to take what the defense gives you."
So in the third quarter, that's just what Gleason did.
Lakeland took a 21-3 lead early in the third when Bowman scored his first of three touchdowns on a 71-yard dash, but on the first play of Plant's ensuing drive, Gleason hit Smoke Mungin with a 79-yard touchdown pass.
Twice more in the third quarter, the Dreadnaughts and Panthers would trade scores. Gleason had two more touchdown passes — on another 79-yard bomb to Mungin and an 11-yard pass to Wilbon — and he finished with a season-high 345-yards passing on the night.
But in the fourth quarter, as Plant needed to make up ground, it did just the opposite, giving up back-to-back Dreadnaught scores, including yet another long run from Bowman.
That fourth-quarter touchdown was the junior's 32nd on the season, a Lakeland High single-season record.
"He's a good player. He's going to go to a good school, he's going to have a good career," Putnam said. "He just made plays, it wasn't anything out of the ordinary."
Even as Lakeland led by four scores late, Plant didn't give up. Gleason put together yet another touchdown drive, which he capped with a 1-yard rushing score, and Plant recovered the ensuing onside kick.
For Weiner, it's those kind of things that make season-ending losses just a little less bitter.
"We'll fight until the very end," he said. "I'm no less proud of them and don't love them any less now than I did before the night started."