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Plant shares the burden, bounty in region final victory over Sumner

Despite losing top running back Waltez Clark to an ankle injury, the Panthers pull together to advance to the Class 4M state semifinals.
 
Plant quarterback JC Mirasola, right, is all smiles and Creighton Koontz jumps for joy moments after the Panthers took a knee to seal their 20-14 victory over Sumner in a Class 4M region final Friday night.
Plant quarterback JC Mirasola, right, is all smiles and Creighton Koontz jumps for joy moments after the Panthers took a knee to seal their 20-14 victory over Sumner in a Class 4M region final Friday night. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Nov. 25, 2023

RIVERVIEW — Plant shuffled in different players in every type of situation during Friday night’s Class 4M region final at Sumner, and it worked out just fine for the Panthers.

In the end, it was tough to find a player who didn’t step up and shine in their 20-14 victory.

“That’s what we do here,” said quarterback JC Mirasola, who took over in the second half after Trey O’Malley led the Panthers to a 17-14 lead in the first half. “We trust in everybody. We have total faith in everything and everybody on this team.”

That faith was put to a big-time test with seconds remaining in the first half after star running back Waltez Clark went down with a severe ankle injury.

Plant running back Waltez Clark scored on a 57-yard pass and rushed for more than 50 yards in the first half before leaving the game with an ankle injury with seconds remaining in the first half.
Plant running back Waltez Clark scored on a 57-yard pass and rushed for more than 50 yards in the first half before leaving the game with an ankle injury with seconds remaining in the first half. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

Moments after Clark left — after rushing for more than 50 yards and scoring a touchdown on a 57-yard pass play — backup Chase Jarrett took a handoff and scored on a 1-yard run with six seconds left in the second quarter.

Clark, a junior and University of Florida commit, was evaluated by a trainer who told Plant coach Hank Brown that Clark’s ankle was tender and he might be able to return if it was wrapped up.

“I said, ‘There’s no need to take a chance,’” Brown said. “I said, ‘We have other guys who can get the job done.’”

In the second half, the Panthers did just that, with running backs Jarrett and Antonio Wimbley and receivers Ben MacKinnon, Tripp Brown, Creighton Koontz and Mikhail Solomon.

The group seamlessly combined with Mirasola (more than 50 rushing yards and 150 passing yards in the second half) to chew up more than 17 minutes of possession time with drives of 67 and 52 yards.

Plant receiver Ben MacKinnon hauls in a 45-yard reception.
Plant receiver Ben MacKinnon hauls in a 45-yard reception. [ SCOTT PURKS | Scott Purks, Special to the Times ]

The defensive side — led by Alex Tate, Zyrohn Canady and Ty Conze — was equally spread out and effective, combining for six sacks of one of the toughest and most elusive quarterbacks in the state. Sumner’s Greg Smith III, who threw for 167 yards in the first half, was held to under 50 in the second.

“We knew coming in that Smith was an amazing athlete and he was shifty and strong and we had to contain,” Conze said. “We had a game plan, and we executed it and that’s how we got those six sacks.”

As if that wasn’t enough, there also was the outstanding play of the Panthers’ special teams, including kicker Camilo Nanfra, who drilled both of his field-goal attempts through the uprights from 35 and 45 yards.

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Plant (11-2) moves onto the state semifinal next week at Miami Columbus, which defeated Davie Western 31-13. Columbus is also 11-2 for the season.

“A bunch of guys would have been going to the Florida-Florida State game (Saturday), but now we’re preparing for our next game,” Brown said. “Right now, we wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. We happily have more work to do.”