HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY

Defensive battle, Plant capitalizes on Tiger errors

Mitchell Wright, Plant 2013 DE
Mitchell Wright, Plant 2013 DE

For the Plant offense, it didn’t go well all that often Saturday night; but when it did go well, most of the time it stuck. For the Jesuit offense, it didn’t go well all that often Saturday night; but when it did, most of the time it got called back because of a penalty. But at the end of the night, it was the Plant defense that rose to the occasion and led the Panthers to a 18 – 0 victory over the host Tigers in the regular season opener for both teams.

The game started slowly for both offenses, as their high-powered engines seemed to be running in reverse. Both teams began their opening drive of the night losing yards and being forced to punt. After Plant’s second stalled drive of the night, however, Jesuit standout Travis Johnson lost the handle on the punt and Plant was back in business at the Jesuit 32 yard line. From there, senior quarterback Aaron Banks picked up 10 yards on two carries and running back Wesley Bullock added another 14 yards to put Plant inside the Tiger ten yard line. A couple of short runs later, Paris Bostick found the end zone to give the Panthers their first score of the night. The extra point ricocheted off the cross bar leaving Plant with a 6 – 0 lead.

Jesuit began the ensuing possession on their own 15 yard line, and followed a short run with a Leland Saile pass completion that accounted for 28 of the Tiger’s 48 total passing yards. However, Saile’s next pass ended up in the hands of Plant linebacker Reeves Rogers, who returned the pick deep into Jesuit territory. Two short runs by Bullock, sandwiched around a completed pass from Banks to Cam Winter put the Panthers in position for Banks to sneak the ball over for the second score. The two point conversion failed when Bank’s pass sailed just over the outstretched hands of linebacker/tight end Andrew Beck, resulting in a 12 – 0 Plant lead.

The teams traded punts throughout the second quarter and Jesuit looked to be in good shape when it recovered a fumbled punt by Bostick. However, a facemask penalty against the Tigers forced a re-kick and the results were not as good for the home team as Plant cornerback Mazzi Wilkins fielded a low, line-drive punt and returned it to the Jesuit 28 yard line. After trading penalties, Plant was able to get on the board again when senior William Few nailed a 43-yard field goal, giving Plant a 15 – 0 lead when the teams went into the locker rooms for halftime moments later.

Jesuit opened the second half with the ball and new-found optimism fueled by a Saile to Johnson connection that put the Tigers close to midfield. Two plays later, however, the Panthers forced and recovered a fumble. The Tigers defense came up with a couple of big plays of its own to keep the Panthers out of the end zone, but Few was able to connect with his second field goal of the night, this one from 35 yards out.

Travis Johnson then returned the Plant kickoff 90 yards for an apparent touchdown, but an illegal (and needless) block in the back penalty negated the senior’s efforts and forced the Tigers to start their drive from their own 45. The Tigers missed a second chance to score when a halfback pass fell harmlessly beyond a wide open receiver. Plant was not without its missed chances, as well. In its next possession, a long run by Tristan Cooper was negated by an illegal block in the back call, as was a 31 yard TD run by Cooper a few series later. In the end, neither offense was able to muster any fourth quarter points and the Panthers left the Jesuit campus with a hard-earned 18 – 0 victory.

Plant’s swarming defense was once again the story of the night for the Panthers. Jesuit quarterback Leland Saile was harassed throughout the night and finished his first career start with 6 completions (in 16 attempts) for 48 yards. And for each of the five times he was sacked, he was pressured at least twice that many times. And as stingy as the Plant defense was through the air, they were even stingier on the ground, giving up less than 30 rushing yards after factoring in sack-loss yardage. Credit goes out to the Tiger defense as well, as they held Plant’s fast-break offense to just under 200 yards total offense. But, at the end of the night, the Panther offense was able to put points on the board — something the Plant defense simply did not allow Jesuit to do. Plant goes to 1 – 0 and will travel to New Orleans this Friday night for a game with traditional national power John Curtis high School, while the Tigers fall to 0 – 1 and will take on Middleton.

Rob Barnes