ORLANDO – Quarterback Aaron Murray threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns and a stingy defense held Tallahassee Lincoln scoreless for three quarters as Tampa Plant won its second Class 4A state championship in the last three seasons with its 34-14 victory Saturday afternoon at the Citrus Bowl.
Murray, a Georgia commitment who suffered a broken left ankle and had surgery in October, completed 18 of 30 passes in his second game back. Tight end Orson Charles caught six of the passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
“No one thought he (Murray) would be back,” Plant head coach Robert Weiner said. “He worked as hard as he possibly could to put himself in that situation in the small hope that he might be able to come back. (Backup) Phillip Ely did his part, as did the rest of the team, and Aaron did the rest the last two weeks.”
The Panthers (14-1) scored three touchdowns in 3:55 of the first and second quarters, the last two within eight seconds of each other, to grab a 21-0 lead. Running back DeAndre Queen scored on a 1-yard plunge to cap an 11-play, 80-yard drive with 1:55 remaining in the first quarter which was dominated by Plant’s defense. The drive started following Mandale Jackson’s block of Carlos Gaston’s 34-yard field-goal attempt.
“Everyone came out to play hard today, and we set the tone early in the game and let them know they weren’t going to move the ball on us,” said Plant senior linebacker Mike Mirabella, who had three tackles for 10 yards lost.
Just 1:52 into the second quarter, Murray hooked up with Charles on the first of his two 72-yard touchdown passes in the quarter. Eight seconds later, Beau Hume intercepted a Ryan White pass and went 24 yards to score for a 21-0 Plant lead.
“I just got in my lane where I’m supposed to drop and he didn’t see me, I guess,” said Hume, who also had a forced fumble and a game-high nine tackles, four of them for losses totaling 22, including three quarterback sacks totaling 20. “He (White) threw it right to me and luckily I caught it. I almost dropped it.”
Late in the quarter, White was intercepted by Javonte Martin at the Plant 28. Murray then completed a 72-yard touchdown pass to Nathan Marvel with three seconds remaining for a 28-0 halftime lead.
But Lincoln (11-4) was determined to prove it had some fight left. A four-play, 48-yard drive concluded with Javorius Allen scoring on a 9-yard touchdown run but placekicker Pat Olschlager missed the PAT.
On his team’s next possession, White had his most effective passing series of the game, hitting Jawanza Starling for 13 yards, Allen for 48 yards and Starling once again for a 29-yard touchdown pass on consecutive throws. White ran for the two-point conversion which closed the Plant lead to 28-14.
But the Panthers’ defense re-established control and limited the Trojans to just nine plays in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Panthers’ offense reeled off a 7:07 drive that culminated with Murray hitting Charles for a 14-yard touchdown pass to seal the victory.
Plant finished with 393 in total offense. Marco Cobb led the rushing attack with 47 yards on 11 carries. Justin Rudolph had five receptions for 85 yards, while Marvel had 80 yards on his two receptions. Lincoln managed 211 yards in total offense, with White completing 9 of 18 passes for 164 yards and three interceptions. He was sacked six times for 41 yards.
FHSAA FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
The pairings for this weekend’s championship games at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl in the 2008 Florida High School Athletic Association state football playoffs:
Friday, Dec. 19
Class 3A championship
Cocoa 7, Godby (Tallahassee) 6, OT
Class 5A championship
St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale) 56, Lakeland 7
Saturday, Dec. 20
Class 4A championship
Plant (Tampa) 34, Lincoln (Tallahassee) 14
Class 6A championship
Seminole (Sanford) (12-2) vs. Northwestern (Miami) (12-1), late