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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
The Panthers haven't faced a foe outside Hillsborough County in almost a decade.
By SCOTT PURKS
Published December 9, 2006
TAMPA - Every football team travels, unless that team is Plant.
It has been nine years since the Panthers crossed the county line to play a high school football game. Even that wasn't much of a trip, as they ventured only as far as Lakeland. They lost that Nov. 7, 1997, game 17-7 to George Jenkins and haven't left the county since.
Until now. What better reason to gas up the buses than a state championship game in Miami?
Of course, the trip brings some issues the Panthers aren't used to dealing with. For instance, don't even ask coach Bob Weiner about hotels because he has had his fill.
This week, the first time the Panthers have needed a place to stay in at least 22 years, Weiner went through 14 hotels before he finally found one.
"I guess," Weiner said, "a little practice with this traveling thing might have helped."
By Wednesday night he finally had one confirmed, though farther away from Dolphins Stadium (28 miles) than he would have liked.
"If beating Nease is more difficult than getting a hotel,then we're in trouble," Weiner said. "We may be undefeated on the field but we were defeated this week when it came to finding some place to sleep."
Hotels aside, it appears traveling for Plant, though it hasn't played outside Hillsborough County this decade, won't raise any doubt or cause any trouble.
"If anything," quarterback Robert Marve said, "traveling to Miami brings us closer together. You know we've been waiting years for this, and now it's here, our reward to share together.
"The truth is we want to go play this game in Miami in the big pro stadium because that's where it's supposed to be played. We wouldn't want to play the state final anywhere else."
And Marve said this despite the fact Plant has played its past five games at home in front of a packed house on a roughed-up field that feels just right to them, but perhaps not so great to a visitor.
But no player, wideout Derek Winter said, disagrees with Marve.
"We have loved playing at home in front of our great crowds," Winter said. "But we've also felt pretty good on the road. The fact is we haven't lost an away game during the regular season in two years. So yeah, you know, we like playing on the road as well."
Armwood coach Sean Callahan, who led his team to the past three Class 4A state finals (winning titles in 2003 and 2004) said he believes traveling for a state championship has no bearing on a team's comfort zone.
"Either the team is confident or it isn't," Callahan said. "And right now Plant is feeling pretty good about themselves, as they should be. They have played great through the playoffs and they haven't lost a game this season.""
Defensive back/wide receiver Cornelius Gallon said Plant couldn't wait to get on the bus, which, Weiner wrote in his week's itinerary, will involve only light conversation throughout the ride.
"We're loose, we're ready and now that we have our hotel, we're really ready," Weiner said, chuckling. "After getting the hotel, everything else has got to seem a lot easier."
Altamonte Springs Lake Brantley vs. Miami Northwestern, 7 p.m. today
Lakeland 45, St. Thomas Aquinas 42 (2 OT)
Glades Central 39, Pine Forest 27: Bryan Mann passed for a pair of touchdowns and ran for two more. It was the sixth state title for the Raiders. The Eagles, who won three titles, lost for the first time this season after 14 straight wins.
Quarterback C.J. Dancy, with 15 carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns, led a Pine Forest rushing attack that gained 292 yards, but he failed to complete a pass. Running backs Alfred Morris and Horaczeo Crawford combined for 177 yards and a touchdown.
Mann completed 10-of-26 for 207 yards and was intercepted twice. He ran for 75 yards on nine carries. His 28-yard scoring run with two minutes remaining clinched the game. Deonte Thompson's 23-yard touchdown run put the Raiders up for good, 31-27, with 3:38 left.