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Plant rallies from 20-point deficit to beat Sumner

After a slow start, the Panthers score 37 of the final 51 points to advance to the Class 4M region semifinals.
(placeholder image for high school football games we don't shoot)
(placeholder image for high school football games we don't shoot) [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 12|Updated Nov. 13

TAMPA — Sweat ran profusely down the face of Plant High coach Hank Brown shortly after his Panthers had secured a 37-34 victory over Sumner Friday night in a Class 4M region quarterfinal.

It was Brown’s first playoff win as Plant’s head coach and the Panthers’ first postseason triumph since a 39-18 victory over Melbourne Viera in a 2018 Class 7A region semifinal.

Plant (9-2) will meet the winner of Saturday’s East Lake-Olympia game in the region semifinals.

For the ninth straight game, the Panthers did what they needed to do to win.

Plant trailed 20-0 after 16 minutes. The Panthers were outgained 511-239. Sumner ran 74 of the game’s 114 plays. The Stingrays held a 24-11 advantage in first downs.

But time ran out on Sumner, whose 50-yard completion from its 7-yard line on the final play of the game left no time on the clock.

“It’s just such an incredible honor to be able to coach here at Plant High School and have the opportunity to do this,” said Brown, a long-time assistant who took over the program last year. “To have the kids battle the way they did and come back is such an incredible feeling.”

Plant was challenged all night by Sumner junior quarterback Greg Smith, who accounted for four touchdowns (two running, two passing) and 434 total yards — 255 passing and 179 rushing.

Trailing 27-13 after Smith’s 5-yard touchdown run with 6:16 left in the third quarter, Plant needed something special to happen . . . and it did.

In the ensuing 10 seconds, the Panthers scored two touchdowns. The first came on a 90-yard kickoff return by senior Jaquez Kindell. Then, after Plant kicked off, Smith couldn’t come up with an extremely high center snap at his 20, and senior Rodes Robinson fell on the loose ball in the end zone for a Panthers touchdown.

Plant took its first lead of the game in the fourth quarter on a 38-yard field goal by junior Camilo Nanfra. But Sumner went back in front, 34-30, on Smith’s second TD pass to sophomore Tyler Williams, a 15-yard strike with 4:23 remaining.

The Panthers got their winning score on the next series, as junior Trey O’Malley connected with senior AJ Durham on a 52-yard touchdown pass with 2:13 left. One play earlier, O’Malley hit Kindell on a 5-yard pass on a third-and-4, ending a strech in which Plant had gone 0-for-6 on third down.

Freshman Zyrohn Canady recovered a Smith fumble on Sumner’s next series, but the Panthers had to punt and junior Maddox Cowart’s kick was downed at the Stingrays’ 7 with only 20 seconds remaining. Two plays later, Smith found Williams for a 50-yard completion to the Plant 43 before time ran out.

“Defensively, we didn’t hold (Plant),” Sumner coach Alonzo Ashwood said. “I wish we would have, but it didn’t happen. We played so valiantly, and I feel so good about it with my boys at the end of the day.”

Brown said he expected a challenge from the outset.

“We knew coming into this game that Coach Ashwood and his staff had a heck of a ballclub,” he said. “They have some great players on their team, and we knew they were going to come in, battle and bring it to us.

“They did that right off the git, and we had to find answers. We stayed steady, we held firm, and the kids responded.”

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