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Plant 35, Hillsborough 16
Key interceptions, success against Hillsborough's talented defense spell victory for the Panthers.
By JOEY KNIGHT, Times Staff Writer
Published October 13, 2007
TAMPA - Following Plant's second triumphant visit to Hillsborough High's Chelo Huerta Field in as many years, it's becoming hard to determine who owns the facility: the county school district or Panthers senior Cornelius Gallon.
Gallon, whose interception in his own end zone in the final minute preserved last season's seven-point Panthers victory at Hillsborough, had an even more profound impact at the Terriers' Homecoming Friday night.
His final numbers: two picks, an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and four catches for 69 yards and another touchdown.
The final score: Panthers, 35-16.
"We'll be the most-watched high school team in America after this one. If we didn't get him a scholarship after this, I don't know," Terriers coach Earl Garcia said. "He should put us on his income tax returns."
Against a defense that already had registered four shutouts, Plant 5-1 mostly flourished with its passing game while catching a pair of fortunate breaks.
Junior quarterback Aaron Murray passed for 239 yards and ran for another 119, while senior Derek Winter had five catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns against the Terriers' daring press coverage.
But Gallon prevailed as the most prominent - and versatile - star, seemingly snuffing each Terriers' rally attempt.
"You have to play your A game when you play Hillsborough because they're so athletic and so talented," Gallon said. "It's a rivalry; you have to bring it."
Gallon brought it in every way conceivable.
Following Lindsey Lamar's 44-yard touchdown run up the middle that cut Hillsborough's deficit to 21-16 with 11:05 to play, Gallon responded with his kickoff return.
On Hillsborough's ensuing possession, the Terriers (6-1) drove inside Plant's 30 before Gallon intercepted a Tarean Austin pass near his own 25.
"Cornelius has got a heart that never stops at any moment," Panthers coach Bob Weiner said. "He's on go all the time.
"Man, I love that kid. He's a great player, and he obviously loves this field."
Gallon also was the beneficiary of what undoubtedly will go down as the game's most controversial play: a fumbled Panthers shotgun snap inside Hillsborough's 10-yard line that was nullified by what was ruled an inadvertent whistle.
The would-be fumble occurred with Plant leading 14-10 and facing second and goal from Hillsborough's 4 with 22 seconds to play in the first half.
Had the play stood, the Panthers would have lost at least 10 yards, a down and timeout.
But Plant was allowed to replay the down. Two plays later, Murray hit Gallon for a 3-yard TD.
"I heard (the whistle) right away," Weiner said. "I knew right away that the play was dead right there. ...But really, to be honest, that was just one play in a drive that went (77) yards in the last (five minutes) that was like pulling teeth."