Plant needed some last second heroics to get by Lakeland, but the Panthers did just that in a Class 7A region semifinal last Friday night.
After falling to the Dreadnaughts in the same round a year ago, Plant (11-0) now plays host to 2015 state runner-up Viera.
The Hawks (9-2) come to Tampa for the region final fresh off a 53-45 victory over Martin County last week.
Plant senior wide receiver/cornerback De’Angelo Philyor says he’s expecting “a fight till the end.”
The 5’10”, 180-pounder has 14 total Division-I offers including Indiana, Virginia Tech and Louisville.
Philyor has 19 touchdowns on the season including four in the playoffs so far. He’s averaging 12.9 yards per touch while adding 292 yards from scrimmage in the regional round. Philyor also has three pass breakups this postseason.
Plant is a tough team on both sides of the ball. The defense brings the heat often with linebackers Thomas Allen, Bryce Love and defensive end Judge Culpepper. Philyor, Juwan Burgess and Alvertus Parker hold the ship down in the secondary.
Senior linebacker Egan Baber has emerged here late in the season with 11 tackles (5 for a loss), two interceptions and a defensive touchdown over the last two playoff games.
The Panthers defense has to play sharp against a Hawks passing attack led by junior quarterback Tim Demorat. He has 22 touchdowns through the air this season.
“We are expecting a good tough game,” Parker said. “They’re a passing team so our defensive backs will have to step up and work on swarming to the ball and tackling.”
Parker says the team is filled with excitement fresh off their comeback win over Lakeland.
“We’re living in the moment of the win right now but when Monday’s practice comes it’s time to move on and focus on our next opponent,” he said.
Plant owns a 35-1 record at home since 2011. That season marked the school’s last state championship and last loss at Dad’s Stadium. 13th-year head coach Robert Weiner has led them to four state crowns
“Our student section and band gives us a lift in the game,” Parker said. “There is a lot of magic in Dad’s Stadium.”
Searching for its first trip to the state tournament since 2013, these Panthers know what is at stake.
“It would mean a lot for us to win it all because we’ve been working for this for a year now,” Philyor said.
Parker says no single word can describe how much a state title would mean to him and his team.
“A lot of people thought this year’s team wouldn’t do much but as the season went on we were able to prove them wrong and do it,” he said. “With this year’s group, it means even more so winning it all would mean more than anything.”
If Plant wants to pick up this big victory in front of its home crowd it must make sure to generate pressure consistently.
The Hawks feature three highly skilled receivers that can do damage in open space. Travis Jones (6 touchdowns), Sean Atkins (4 touchdowns) and Quinton Richard (4 touchdowns) have been key targets for Demorat.
Demorat completed 31-of-39 pass attempts for 534 yards, five touchdowns and an interception last week. Richard caught seven passes for 136 yards and a touchdown.
On defense, Viera is led by junior defensive end Miguel Rodriguez and his whopping 26 sacks. Junior defensive back Colton Farrington leads the secondary with five interceptions.
You can bet on the Panthers being prepared, but putting up points early will be crucial. This game could easily turn into a shootout with the way Viera’s offense is performing.
Frantzen is going to have to put the offense on his back once again with his dual-threat ways.
Expect a back and forth battle on Friday night between Viera and Plant. It should be fun.
A trip to the state tourney awaits.
Jake Perper is the founder of Prep Sports Scouting. Make sure to follow along for all the updates on Twitter: @JakePerper.
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