Title shot for Panthers
Published: Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 12:22 a.m.
NEWBERRY — When Newberry football coach Tommy Keeler addressed his dejected team following last year's 38-30 first-round playoff loss at Jacksonville Trinity Christian, he talked about this day.
And during this season when the Panther players sat off to themselves, they thought about this day.
Now, this day has arrived. And a team named Newberry will somewhat appropriately finish its season in the Citrus Bowl.
After a 28-18 victory against visiting Tallahassee Florida High on Friday night, Newberry — 2-8 just two years ago — finds itself in the FHSAA Class 2B state championship game against Pahokee next Saturday.
"This is something I've never felt before and will probably never feel for the rest of my life," said senior linebacker Josh Pardo, whose team hasn't played in a state title game since 1992. "That is, unless we win the state championship."
The Panthers (13-0) certainly earned their spot in the championship game.
During the playoffs Newberry defeated three teams — Trinity Christian, Ocala Trinity Catholic and Florida High — who at one time or another were ranked in the top 3 of the 2B state poll.
And they did so in different ways.
The first round saw Trinity Christian's Jamie Harper and the Panthers' Antwan Ivey each run for more than 200 yards. The second round was a defensive struggle, and Friday's contest was about big plays.
Newberry had four snaps in the first quarter and took a 14-3 lead. One score came on an 84-yard run by Ivey (16 carries for 138 yards) and the other a 12-yard option keeper by quarterback Guy Brown.
After a scoreless second quarter, the Panthers pushed their lead to 21-3 on a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown by senior Matt Robinson.
The Seminoles (12-1), however, were "pesky" in Keeler's words and cut their deficit to 21-11 with two minutes remaining in the third on a 1-yard run by Shandale Pearson and a successful two-point conversion.
But Robinson struck again, this time on offense.
With 10:32 left in the game, Keeler called 42 reverse option pass from his team's own 49. There, receiver Ryan Brown took a pitch from Guy Brown (Ryan's older brother), rolled toward the Panther sideline and looked downfield to see Robinson 10 yards behind the nearest defender.
The pass found Robinson, who then found the end zone, giving Newberry a 28-11 lead.
"I love it!" Keeler said. "Matt gave us 14 points. Awesome!"
He also helped stop points, as for the second straight week the Panthers made a good passing quarterback ineffective.
Last week they forced Trinity Catholic's Rob Henry into an 8-for-26, 132-yard, two interception performance. This week it was Kyle Stewart (7-of-26 for 73 yards and two interceptions) who struggled.
"Our defense cranked out big plays," Keeler said. "We held them to 18 points and didn't allow a lot of big plays (though Florida High's Santaun McGee carried 25 times for 212 yards).
"We kept everything underneath us."
Now the Panthers can finally look ahead to Pahokee — a name rarely muttered, but always understood was the team they'd probably see if they got this far.
"Everybody knew it was going to be Pahokee," Pardo said. "It's hard not to look forward. I'm not going to lie and say they haven't been in the back of our minds.
"We've been focused on the games (immediately) ahead of us, but we knew it would be them in the end."
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.
Comments are currently unavailable on this article