TAMPA — Despite an unresolved quarterback competition that has left Plant's offensive identity a huge mystery, the Panthers didn't seem to be fazed by the uncertainty early in their game against rival Hillsborough.
In fact, two of the three quarterbacks competing for the job — Dane Frantzen and Judge Culpepper — worked together to put Plant on the board after its first drive, as Culpepper gained a big first down on a fake punt and Frantzen scored a 1-yard touchdown on a quarterback keeper.
Later on in the half, however, it wasn't the Terriers who stalled Plant's offensive and defensive efforts, but the Panthers themselves, who accrued 13 first-half penalties including five in Hillsborough's first scoring drive.
"That's an emotional thing, as well as we've just got to be more disciplined," linebacker Michael Murphy, who had two touchdowns in Plant's 35-14 win Friday. "There's just no excuse for that, really. They were good sports. It wasn't a chippy thing, it wasn't trash talking, It was more just undisciplined (play)."
Plant gave up 42 points to Colquitt County (Ga.) in its season opener last week, but early on against Hillsborough, the defense looked as if it had something to prove, holding the Terriers to just 3 yards of offense on its first two drives.
Meanwhile, Plant's three quarterbacks — Culpepper, Frantzen and Kyle Trina — took turns under center. The Panthers opened with a scoring drive, but had just one first down on its next three.
"Using three quarterbacks has never made us be disjointed or kind of awkward in what we were doing, and tonight we had a stretch where it felt like just the change from series to series, we weren't adapting to it very well," coach Robert Weiner said. "That was the first time it had happened."
The Terriers punted on their first two possessions and fumbled away their third. But as the first quarter came to a close, Plant's defense began to melt down. It started with a late hit on quarterback Lawrence Dawsey Jr. Then after four more penalties — including two face masks — the Terriers found themselves on the 8-yard line. Two plays later, Rudy Dawson III rushed two yards for the tying score. He scored Hillsborough's other touchdown in the third quarter, on a 25-yard run up the middle on fourth and 1, to tie the score at 14.
Trina spent most of the second half under center after Frantzen went down with an injury and Weiner was forced to use Culpepper at wideout. The consistency seemed to pay off for the Panthers, who looked like a completely different team after the break.
Murphy, who usually plays receiver, came in at running back for a banged up Tykese Keaton-Baldwin in the third quarter, and moments later he found the end zone on a 9-yard run to give the Panthers the lead. After Dawson's second tying score, Murphy gave Plant the advantage once more, connecting with Trina on a 5-yard touchdown pass.
Plant's offense, which struggled to get moving after its first drive of the night, had no trouble scoring down the stretch, and the Panthers found the end zone twice in a 27-second span in the final three minutes of the game.
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Wide receiver Christian Watson scored on a 40-yard pass from Trina , and seconds later Davis Bak stripped Hillsborough quarterback Lawrence Dawsey Jr. and took it back 30 yards for the final score of the night.
"I really just felt like it was a bunch of prideful guys, who, after giving up 42 last week to a very, very good team, just made a decision they weren't going to give that up again," Weiner said.