VENICE — Plant coach Robert Weiner stressed to his team the importance of creating turnovers in preparation for Friday’s anticipated showdown with Class 7A defending state champion Venice.
Weiner even devoted one day of practice this week to focus on taking the ball away.
That attention to detail paid off. The Panthers recovered three fumbles and picked off two passes.
Three of those turnovers came with the Indians driving for potential scores. Another led to a touchdown that gave the Panthers their first lead of the game.
By being opportunistic on defense, Plant was able to rally from a nine-point halftime deficit to force a 25-25 tie in the preseason game.
"We’ve never beaten Venice on the road," Weiner said. "To come out here and come back the way we did and force a tie against the defending state champions is certainly something we’ll take.
"There’s no doubt turnovers played a role for us. We’ve got some special guys back there that can make things happen."
The Panthers set the tone on the opening possession. Indians running back Brandon Gregory ripped off a 69-yard run and appeared headed for a touchdown. Panthers defensive backs Leonard Parker and Romain Mungin converged on Gregory to force a fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchback.
Plant forced — and recovered — another fumble near the goal line in the first half to prevent another score.
Unfortunately, the Panthers committed some turnovers of their own. Twice, Plant lost fumbles deep in their own territory in the first half. One led to a Venice field goal, and the other the Indians returned for a touchdown.
Trailing 12-3 at halftime, the Panthers stormed back.
Tucker Gleason, an East Lake transfer who was playing his first start as Plant’s quarterback, scored on a 1-yard run to cut it to 12-10.
On the next possession, the Panthers recovered a fumble. They turned that into points as Gleason connected with Mungin on a 33-yard touchdown pass for a 17-12 lead.
Venice responded with two scores to go ahead 25-17.
Plant came back again as Gleason hit Parker on an 11-yard touchdown pass. Jude May then threw for the 2-point conversion to force the tie with less than three minutes remaining.
Contact Bob Putnam at [email protected] Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.