ORLANDO — There were quite a few prognosticators that thought Miramar would conclude an undefeated season with a win over a ‘less-talented’ Tampa Plant squad at the Citrus Bowl on Saturday night. But a funny thing happened on the way to the awards podium – the better team showed up and captured their fourth state championship in six years, as the Plant Panthers emerged victorious by a score of 31-20.
“We know we play the best teams in the state of Florida, and our kids have always responded,” Plant coach Robert Weiner said. “The same is true tonight.”
With the victory, Plant achieved quite an impressive feat. The Panthers have now won championships across three different classifications – 4A, 5A and 8A (formerly 6A) – over the last four seasons.
“We got what we deserved,” Weiner said. “This team was so together and tight-knit. They deserved a gold medal around their necks and that’s what they got. I already know everything about this team that I need to know – as a team and as individuals. I just wanted to go on the grand stage and let the rest of the world know. I think they found out tonight.”
Deservedly so, Weiner has earned a reputation as one of the best prep coaches in the state of Florida – if not the nation. It’s not just about X’s and O’s with him, either. He has become renowned as something of an offensive magician who can whip almost any ordinary kid off the street into a blue-chip quarterback.
But it’s more than just that. Looking at the two teams as they took the field on Saturday, few would have given Plant a chance after a quick glance of both squads. Miramar was stocked full of big-time prospects, including All-American cornerback Tracy Howard. For Plant, their top senior prospect (wide receiver Austin Aikens) was injured and did not play much of a factor in the game. Their top junior prospect (safety Paris Bostick) missed the game for unspecified reasons. No matter, the Plant machine just continues to roll on – led by a coach who seems to know just what buttons to push to get his team playing at its very best when the games matter the most.
Even Howard admitted after the game that Miramar (13-1) may have taken Plant a bit lightly in the early stages of the game.
“They prepared better than we did,” he said. “They came out on fire. In my opinion they studied us more than we studied them. That’s why they came out with the win.”
For the Panthers, junior running back Wesley Bullock noted that any slight from the media or Miramar – whether it be real or perceived – played a role in getting the team motivated for the game.
“What really set it off was that coach told us they already had their ring sizes ready,” Bullock said after rushing for 124 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries against the Patriots. “That was a slap in the face to us. We knew we had to come out and punch them in the mouth first.”
Although senior quarterback James Few didn’t put together his best performance on Saturday for the Panthers, completing just 5-of-14 passes for 47 yards, he played mistake-free football while contributing 57 yards on the ground. He won’t be playing big-time BCS football like his predecessors at the position, but Few can now take his place among the pantheon of Plant quarterbacks which includes Robert Marve (Purdue), Aaron Murray (Georgia) and Phillip Ely (Alabama).
“I really just couldn’t be more proud of him,” Weiner said of Few, who threw for more than 2,500 yards and 29 touchdowns this fall. “I was waiting for tonight to tell him what I think of him as a young man and a quarterback, and it will be a very emotional moment.”
The victory made it a Tampa sweep at the FHSAA Finals on Saturday. Seffner Armwood, which handed Plant their only loss of the season on Oct. 28, upended Miami Norland in the afternoon game to capture the Class 6A championship. There was a time not too long ago where prep football in the Tampa area struggled to gain any footing in terms of relevance in the state of Florida. That is not the case anymore, of course.
“It’s really satisfying,” Weiner said of the two-fold Tampa triumph. “We have a lot of guys who are really competitive. We’ve always said that competition sparks the best in everyone. That’s true in our area as well. We have great coaches who throw great products out there.”
But Armwood got the job done, in part, with raw talent. The Plant victory was a testament to what happens when a team finds harmony and plays as one unit.
“When we play together, we can’t be beat,” Plant offensive tackle Richy Klepal said. “That’s just how it is with us.”
If there was any thought that this incredible run by the Panthers could come to an end, that Robert Weiner may move on to greener pastures after the season, he certainly didn’t give any indication of that notion on the field of the Citrus Bowl.
“I could do this forever,” he said with a smile.
Translation: expect the Plant Panthers to be right back in the mix of things next December. The names of the contributors will change, but the result always seems to be the same.
– With several members of the UF staff in the stands – including head coach Will Muschamp – the group was treated to quite a performance by Miramar junior linebacker Jermaine Grace. It is expected that Grace will follow teammate and close friend Tracy Howard to the same school next year. He currently holds offers from both Florida and Florida State.
While Grace refused to comment after the game, he showed why he is quite a prospect to be reckoned with. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior recorded 10 tackles, a fumble recovery and a pass break-up against Plant. For the season, Grace notched more than 120 tackles and four sacks for the Patriots.
– Plant junior defensive back Paris Bostick did not participate in the game, but junior offensive tackle Richy Klepal certainly stood out as a potential BCS-level prospect for the Panthers. The 6-foot-4, 275-pound lineman reports no offers, but notes that he has started to hear from a number of programs and plans to start making the rounds of unofficial visits in the spring.
Justin Wells hosts a weekly recruiting video chat with Andrew Spivey on Tuesday nights from 8:30-9:30 p.m. EST. You can view the show live on the Gator Country TV page. You can also e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org—or follow him on twitter @j_wellsGC.