The Plant Panthers and Lakeland Dreadnaughts renewed their sporadic but fierce rivalry Friday night at Dad’s Stadium in Tampa and the two heralded programs did not disappoint. Plant snatched victory from the jaws of defeat when it blocked a punt with 1:05 remaining in the game. This set up set up a short touchdown run by quarterback Dane Frantzen that delivered the victory to Plant and finished this wild ride of a game.
Although the game ended in a frenzy of excitement, the first half was anything but. The Lakeland defense was the story of the first half, stifling the Plant running and passing game. The Dreadnaughts set the tone with aggressive play and hard hitting that left several Panthers hobbled. They also batted down several passes near the line of scrimmage from Plant quarterback Dane Frantzen. Plant’s defense was equally stingy in the first half even if it wasn’t quite delivering the same hard hits as the Dreadnaughts. The teams traded short drives that all ended in punts and the teams combined for only 8 first downs in the half. The longest play of the half was a 23-yard run by Panther wide receiver Whop Philyor. The teams ended the half knotted at zero but the fans present were in store for a roller coaster second half.
Lakeland got the ball in the second half and their first drive started with promise. Tailback A.J. Davis broke a quick 12-yard run and followed it up with a nice reception. It appeared Lakeland was on the move but the Panther defense stiffened at mid-field. Lakeland came up 2 yards short on third and 6. A short punt put Plant in business on their own 27. After two runs, it appeared that Plant would have to punt again when the Panthes came up 2 yards short on 3rd and 6. However, a defensive penalty kept the Plant drive alive and this would cost Lakeland. Dane Frantzen hit 3 consecutive passes to Cameron Duggans, Whop Philyor, and Kyle Trina. The last one was a 27-yard dart that put the Panthers on the Dreadnaughts 3 yard line. It appeared that Plant scored a touchdown on a short Frantzen run, but it was called back and Plant had to settle for a 24-yard field goal from kicker Nick Rice. This put Plant up 3-0 with 3:24 left in the 3rd quarter. The lead would not last long.
After a touchback on the kickoff, it only took Lakeland one play to take command. On first down with Lakeland lined up in a two-back set with 4 wide outs, Plant walked its safety up to the line. Lakeland quarterback Holden Hotchkiss hit receiver Willie Baker on a slant and he out-ran the Plant defenders for an 80-yard touchdown to put the Naughts up 7-3 with 3:12 left in the third quarter. Still dazed from the spectacular Baker touchdown return, things were about to get a whole lot worse for the Panthers. On the next play, Whop Philyor took the kickoff for the Panthers and seemed to make a nice return. While in the pile with forward progress seemingly stopped, the ball squirted out and it was picked up by the Dreadnaughts who returned it for another touchdown. This put Lakeland up 14-3. In a span of 25 seconds Plant went from a hard-fought 3-0 lead to being down by 11 points.
Thanks to a nice return, Plant got the ball back on the Lakeland 44. The Panthers drove the field, again aided by an untimely Lakeland penalty and on the strength of quarterback Dane Frantzen’s short passes an determined running. The Plant had first and goal from the 6. Plant was finally able to punch it on 3rd and goal from the two when Philyor took a pitch and found daylight in the left corner of the end zone. Plant went for two and Frantzen found utility back Kyle Trina in traffic for a 2-point completion. The Panthers had pulled within 3 with 10:28 left in the game. Lakeland responded with some nice running by A.J. Davis to churn out a first down. But a bad snap to quarterback Hotchkiss resulted in a big 7-yard loss on 2nd and 10 and Lakeland had to punt.
Plant took over with about seven minutes left to play on its own 22.With a nice mix of passes and runs, mainly by Frantzen and Philyor, Plant drove the ball to the Lakeland 38. On first down Frantzen faked a hand-off and found a streaking Philyor down the right sideline for a 38-yard touchdown. The Nick Rice extra point put Plant up 18-14 with only 3:08 left to play. Again, the Panthers’ jubilation would be short-lived.
On the ensuing kickoff, Lakeland tailback A.J. Davis exploded for a 90-plus yard kickoff return that resulted in a touchdown. The extra point put the Dreadnaughts up 21-18 with 2:53 to play. Plant took over on its own 40 and drove the ball to the Dreadnaughts 44. The Plant drive ended on 4th and 5 when the Franzten pass attempt to tight end Judge Culpepper was broken up. It appeared that the game was over. Lakeland took over with 1:53 to play. Plant had two timeouts. The Dreadnaughts tried to bleed the clock but their first two run plays went nowhere and Plant burned one of its timeouts. On 3rd and long, Lakeland chose to throw the ball. Although it was completed to the fullback, he was forced out of bounds with 1:05 remaining, saving Plant its last timeout. This set up a Lakeland punt. When the ball was snapped, Panther Clay Hancher came screaming off of the corner to block the punt. The loose ball was scooped up by Plant running back Tobin Snead, who took the ball down to the Lakeland 2 yard line with 53 seconds remaining. On second and goal from the 1, Frantzen crashed hard though the middle of the line and barely got over the goal line with 29 seconds remaining. The extra point gave Plant a 25-21 lead. On the kickoff, Lakeland tried several laterals that ended up in a fumble recovered by Plant to end the game.
The Panthers escaped with their playoff lives while Coach Castle and the Dreadnaughts have to be wondering how this one got away. The game was evenly matched statistically and was basically dominated by defenses, save for several big plays and one or two sustained drives. Lakeland played its guts out and Plant had the mettle to hang on after giving up the lead twice on big plays.
Fun Fact: Plant only led this game for a total of 56 seconds but incredibly pulled out the victory.
Plant- Frantzen, 12-26, 130 yards passing and a TD; 21 carries for 74 yards, TD.
Philyor, 5 catches, 67 yards and a touchdown; 6 carries, 28 yards and a touchdown.
Lakeland- Hotchkiss, 10-15, 130 yards passing and a touchdown
AJ Davis, 20 carries, 81 yards; 99 yard kickoff return for a touchdown
Willie Baker, 5 catches, 114 yards and a touchdown