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Even more details on Plant's victory

By JOEY KNIGHT and SCOTT PURKS
Published December 11, 2006


Plant's 25-21 victory against Ponte Vedra Beach Nease in Saturday's Class 4A title game in Miami featured so much dazzling play-making, so many statistical subplots and such a dizzying atmosphere, we couldn't cram it all into one edition of the paper. So here are some leftovers.

Kudos for Kuzdale

Panthers senior strong safety Chris Kuzdale's fifth postseason interception was indisputably his most acrobatic.

On Nease's first possession of the fourth quarter, Kuzdale leaped for Ted Stachitas' 25-yard pass in the left corner of the end zone and snagged it with his outstretched right hand.

"We were in Cover 2, and they ran two vertical routes on me," Kuzdale said. "I was on the third vertical, and I saw them looking at No. 2 (Mario Butler). And he was wide open.

"I just ran over there and popped up one hand, and it stuck to my glove."

Kuzdale finished the season with a team-high eight interceptions. His 142 tackles were one shy of team leader Brent Thomas.

Fans of the game

For its collective body paint of work, this honor goes to a quintet of Plant students: Chris Johnson ("P"), Craig Collins ("L"), Alex Webster ("A"), Alex Box ("N") and Matt Pentz ("T").

As they've done for all 15 of the Panthers' games, the upperclassmen - all are seniors except Webster, a junior - adorned their upper bodies in black and gold grease paint, spelling out the school name on their torsos.

Traveling with approximately five others, the group traveled to Miami in three cars, sharing two rooms Friday night at a Holiday Inn off U.S. Highway 27.

Gesture of the game

As Plant's players stood single file awaiting the presentation of their state title medals, Nease left guard James Wilson, who has orally committed to Southern Ca, walked down the line and shook the hand of each Panther.

Plant wins again, barely

The final score, 25-21, was about as close as Plant and Nease finished statistically.

Plant and Nease were just about even in total yards gained (366-363 in favor of Plant), but they got there in different ways. Plant threw for 276; Nease ran for 211.

Time of possession went to Plant as well (24:30-23:30), the Panthers racking up most of their minutes in the first and fourth quarters.

Third-down conversion again went to Plant (6-of-12 to 3-of-12), as did penalties (7-for-42 to Nease's 8-for-75), first downs (24-16) and punting average (40 -28.7).

Turnover turnaround

In Plant's four playoff games leading to the state final, it had forced 17 turnovers while committing one.

Saturday, both teams threw two interceptions.

Plant did, however, fumble twice, recovering both. The more memorable came with less than a minute left when quarterback Robert Marve lost the ball at the Nease 4.

Center Mike Walsh pounced on it to save the game.

"When that ball came out of my hands, my heart stopped," Marve said. "Everything at that moment seemed to be moving in slow motion."

As for the interceptions, Marve said the first one, which came in the fourth quarter, was a "bad choice on my part." The second one, off a long fly pattern, was one Marve said Nease's cornerback made a good play on.

"Their corners were really, really good," Marve said.

Homegrown title

Though Saturday was Plant's first game played outside Hillsborough County, it didn't quite enjoy the homefield advantage of 6A champion Miami Northwestern. The Bulls, who defeated Altamonte Springs Lake Brantley 34-14 Saturday, did not play a game outside Dade County all season.

They said it

"The best leader I've ever seen. The best leader, best teammate I've ever seen in my life." - Plant two-way senior Luke Rorech on Marve

Joey Knight can be reached at jknight @sptimes.com or (813) 226-3350. Scott Purks can be reached at purks@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3353.

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