Plant found itself in unfamiliar territory Friday night - behind.
For only the second time this season, the Panthers trailed at halftime. But Plant rallied, controlling the clock for most of the second half for a 13-7 victory against Southeast at John Kiker Memorial Stadium.
The victory set up a rematch with the only other team that led Plant at halftime this year, Armwood. It will be the third consecutive year the teams have met in a Class 4A regional final.
"I think the No. 1 trait in the playoffs is toughness in every situation," Plant coach Robert Weiner said. "We were certainly faced with some tough things tonight."
Plant's defense, aided by the offense's balanced attack, held Southeast to only nine offensive plays in the second half. Plant closed the game by forcing the Seminoles to turn the ball over on downs, with offensive standout Orson Charles, playing defensive end, picking up a sack and batting down a pass.
It was a defensive struggle in the first half, with Southeast holding Plant's offense to 136 total yards. Plant's defense held the Seminoles' offense to 121 yards.
After smothering the Seminoles offense for most of the first half, Plant's defense suffered a breakdown, leaving sophomore wideout Boe Brand wide open. Southeast sophomore quarterback Dyron Speight found Brand for the 54-yard touchdown with 4:09 remaining in the second quarter.
Plant responded with a 97-yard scoring drive. Junior wideout Allen Sampson, returning from an ankle injury that sidelined him in last week's victory against Lakewood, made a leaping catch for 28 yards and a big first down on third-and-13 that sustained the Panthers' first scoring drive late in the second quarter. Sampson left the game in the third quarter after re-aggravating the injury.
The Panthers opened the second half with back-to-back turnovers. Plant began the third quarter with a seven-minute drive but came up empty when sophomore quarterback Phillip Ely's pass was intercepted in the end zone by Southeast's Jonathan Dowling, a junior defensive back who set a school record this season with 21 interceptions.
Dowling picked up his second interception of the game just before the end of the third quarter, but the Seminoles failed to capitalize on the turnover.
Ely calmed down in the fourth quarter and sustained another long drive, this time, capping it off with a 10-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Marco Cobb that put the Panthers up for good.
"It would have been very easy for him to pack it in," Weiner said of Ely. "But that shows you a little bit of what he has in his heart. We talk about how our players are going to step up and make plays in the critical moments and for him, at this moment and this point in his career, to make those things happen, we couldn't be more proud."
Plant03010-13Southeast0700-7 SE-Brand 54 pass from Speight (Bechtel kick)
P-FG Rhodes 30
P-Cobb 10 run (Rhodes kick)
P-FG Rhodes 24