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  1. Sports

District spotlight on Plant's dominance

TAMPA — The last time Plant lost a district game — a 49-0 loss to Armwood on Oct. 29, 2004 — George W. Bush was still in his first term as president. Most of the players on Robert Weiner's current team were either in first grade or kindergarten.

It's a streak that means a lot to the Panthers, linebacker Michael Murphy said. It's also one that could be challenged with the entrance of new district foes.

"We're not used to losing at all, really," Murphy said. "Being in a new district, it's the same mind-set. We have the same goals. Those are big games for us, and there's no room for errors in those games."

This year Plant is in a district with six other teams instead of five, meaning one more opponent will be looking to bring an end to that decade-long winning streak. The first thing you learn about being a Panther, linebacker Joe Ryan said, is to expect everyone's best.

And though most coaches preach only looking one game at a time, Gaither coach Jason Stokes doesn't beat around the bush about the idea of playing against Plant and its district dynasty.

"Lets be real. That's definitely a game we've circled," he said. "We can't rest. We have to take it week by week, play by play, but we welcome the challenge. We're excited."

With a quarterback situation that is still unresolved following former starter Rex Culpepper's ACL tear, a lot could be up in the air for Plant this season, especially in the early going. Weiner said he plans to use all three quarterbacks in the Panthers' preseason game against Venice, a team that would be tough to beat even with a veteran under center.

Because of that uncertainty, Ryan is thankful that all but one of the Panthers' district games fall during weeks 6-10 — Plant plays Leto in Week 4 — giving the Panthers more time to find themselves prior to defending the streak.

"We're really lucky that we have those five weeks to get our team, get our feet," Ryan said. "The way that we've worked … I know if we have those five weeks to get better and better and better, those district games I think it's going to be the same fate it has been."

Contact Kelly Parsons at kaparsons@tampabay.com. Follow @_kellyparsons.

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