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Steinbrenner ends Plant’s district dominance

The Panthers won’t make it 15 seasons without a division loss as the Warriors remain unbeaten.
A piece of jersey was often all Plant could grab onto in regards to Steinbrenner's Deon Silas, who ran wild in the first half, helping the Warriors to a 42-0 halftime lead.
A piece of jersey was often all Plant could grab onto in regards to Steinbrenner's Deon Silas, who ran wild in the first half, helping the Warriors to a 42-0 halftime lead. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Oct. 5, 2019
Updated Oct. 5, 2019

TAMPA — As the final seconds ticked away, the capacity crowd at Dad’s Stadium had disappeared.

So did Plant’s impressive streak in district games.

For 14 years, the Panthers remained perfect in games that mattered most during the regular season.

Sure, Plant was winless coming into Friday night’s matchup with unbeaten Steinbrenner. But there was still plenty at stake. After all, this was the Class 8A, District 7 opener, the first time the Panthers had a chance to keep their longstanding streak intact.

Instead, it came to an emphatic end with a 49-0 loss to the Warriors. The game was so lopsided, there was a running clock throughout the second half.

“To win this game, at this place, it’s just an unbelievable job by our guys,” Steinbrenner coach Andres Perez said.

Considering all but one other team in the district has a losing record, the Warriors’ win all but wrapped up the 8A-7 title. That means the Panthers’ 14-year playoff run as district champions also comes to an end.

Steinbrenner receiver Aidan Bitter makes a nice leaping grab during the first half. He finishes with two touchdowns.
Steinbrenner receiver Aidan Bitter makes a nice leaping grab during the first half. He finishes with two touchdowns. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

To get an idea of just how long those streaks were, consider that when they started in 2005, Steinbrenner still had another four years before it even opened as a high school.

Robert Weiner, the coach who led Plant to all those district wins and titles, was not on the sideline Friday. He was a few miles away watching the game via livestream while serving a six-week suspension handed down by the Florida High School Athletic Association for providing impermissible benefits to one of his players who needed a place to live.

That player was declared eligible after a hardship hearing Thursday. Weiner has an appeal to reduce his suspension and $5,000 fine for the violation set for next week in Gainesville.

Weiner’s presence might not have made much of a difference.

Steinbrenner (6-0) had this game circled on the calendar since the schedule came out.

Steinbrenner quarterback Haden Carlson is on target most of the night.
Steinbrenner quarterback Haden Carlson is on target most of the night. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

From the start, the Warriors were dominant, especially in the passing game. Quarterback Haden Carlson threw four touchdowns — two each to Aidan Bitter and Jett Law.

Running back Deon Silas ripped off a 76-yard run for a score. There was even some razzle dazzle on a 42-yard touchdown pass.

Everything went the Warriors’ way.

By halftime, Steinbrenner had a 42-0 lead.

Early in the third quarter, the Warriors scored again, this time on a fumble recovery in the end zone off a blocked punt.

Both teams emptied their benches soon after.

Fans stayed on Steinbrenner’s side to savor the moment. The band kept playing. Perez was doused with ice water.

And the players whooped it up, high-fiving the Steinbrenner faithful along the fence.

“We’ve been prepared and focused for this game for so long,” Carlson said. “It’s a big deal to us.”

Still, Perez cautioned that this was just one game. The Warriors still have four more, including two more against 8A-7 foes. If Steinbrenner can win out, it will have its first undefeated regular season and district title.

“This was just one chapter,” Perez said. “We still have the rest of our story to write.”