The Panther Nation Celebrates DPHS Football’s First State Championship

by John Magrino, DPHS Assistant Athletic Director

For 365 days, Dr. Phillips High School football was haunted by the demons that destroyed its dream of a state championship in 2016. But rather than succumb to them, the Panthers used them as motivation for redemption.

Saturday night, Dec. 9, in the cold confines of Camping World Stadium, DPHS football exorcised those same demons, both individually and as a team, with a 17-7 victory over Delray Beach Atlantic Community High School to bring home its first football state championship in school history.

One year ago, then-sophomore Cameron Williams was flagged for pass interference, which allowed Miami Southridge High School to continue a touchdown drive that led to its 14-10 victory over DPHS. Saturday night, Williams, now a veteran linebacker with 137 tackles this season, intercepted an Atlantic pass and returned it 8 yards for the game-sealing touchdown.

One year ago, then-sophomore Jaquarri Powell intercepted a Southridge pass and was on his way to scoring a touchdown, but he was tripped up by a shoestring tackle, resulting in no points. During this year’s battle, Powell, an unquestioned team leader and captain, was an assassin on defense, registering seven tackles, including a crushing tackle on a fake punt and a fourth-quarter sack for a 10-yard loss that effectively buried Atlantic’s bid for a comeback.

One year ago, the Panthers saw a 10-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate in the span of two drives. This year, the football team grabbed a 10-point lead, added seven more and delivered the knockout blow on defense they had trained for and envisioned every single day for an entire year.

After winning its first football state championship, the Dr. Phillips High School Panthers give a moment of thanks.

Play by Play

Coming into the game, the Panthers knew they had to stick to the game plan on both sides of the football. Offensively, they had to secure the football, sustain drives and take advantage of field position. Defensively, they had to create turnovers, swarm tackle and prevent the big plays that had been a staple in Atlantic’s success this year. And it worked. While the offense did not put up eye-opening numbers, they didn’t need to. DPHS’s defense accounted for two touchdowns, held Atlantic deep in its own end of the field on eight of their 12 drives, and eliminated the Eagles’ rushing attack to just 19 yards on 34 carries.

Midway through the opening quarter, Atlantic faced third and 1 at its 29 and handed off to their bruising fullback up the middle, but DPHS senior defensive tackle Brice Ingram met him in the hole and buried him for no gain to force a punt. That set the stage for junior linebacker Powell, who charged in untouched from the left side, blocked the Atlantic punt at the 20, scooped it up at the 9, and took it to the house to give DPHS a 7-0 lead. That was just the first of many highlights for Powell, who finished with 11 tackles, six of them for a loss, including three sacks.

Atlantic was clearly shaken on its next drive. On second and 6 at the 34, DPHS senior defensive end Joe Gulla broke into the backfield and chased down the quarterback for a sack and a loss of 6 yards. One play later, it was Powell again, tearing through the line and sacking the quarterback for a loss of 11, forcing the second of six first-half punts.

Later in the second quarter, Powell drove the Atlantic quarterback into the turf again with a sack for a loss of 12 to force a punt that gave the Panthers possession at the Atlantic 44.

DPHS senior Devodney Alford busted into the secondary for a 14-yard gain and senior quarterback BeSean McCray followed up with a 16-yard keeper for a first down at the 14. Alford carried again for a gain of 7, but the drive stalled two plays later, and senior kicker Sterling Stockwell split the uprights from 28 yards out to put the Panthers up 10-0 through the half.

Atlantic had gained only 39 yards of total offense in the first half and virtually nothing on the ground, so the game plan for the second half was to get the ball in the hands of its talented receiving corps and use whatever tricks it had in its bag to establish some momentum. On its opening possession of the third quarter, that backfired.

Facing fourth and 1 at its own 29, Atlantic faked the punt, but the back was drilled immediately by DPHS senior defensive tackle Christian Williams and Powell for no gain, giving the ball back to the Panthers on downs. Midway through the third quarter, Atlantic’s next offensive possession drove it into DPHS territory for the first time all game. A 2-yard run on fourth and short gave them a first down at the 49, and one play later, a 13-yard pickup set the Eagles up with a first down at the Dr. Phillips’ 38.

Three plays later, Atlantic opted not to try a 47-yard field goal on fourth down and, instead, pitched the ball outside, but DPHS’s Cameron Williams chased down the running back and knocked him out of bounds a yard short of the stick to give the Panthers the ball once again.

Atlantic’s final possession of the third quarter met the same fate as its other drives. The Eagles drove 49 yards in six plays down to the DPHS 13, looking to break through, but Ingram and Powell crashed through the line and drove the quarterback down for a 10-yard loss.

On fourth and 22 from the 23, Atlantic heaved a pass toward the left side of the end zone, but DPHS senior safety Tanner Ingle knocked it away for the third consecutive turnover on downs.

The mighty DPHS offense took over at the 23 and needed to chew time off the clock but could not pick up a first down in its previous two possessions. Things were different on this drive, though. On third and 5 from the DPHS 28, sophomore receiver Trey Schyck caught a pass from McCray in the right flat and dove for a first down across the 36-yard line to move the chains. After a pair of runs by McCray for 8 yards sent the Panthers into the fourth quarter, the senior quarterback zipped a third-down pass into the hands of junior Devon Buckhanon and the 6-foot-3-inch receiver churned ahead for a gain of 19 and another DPHS first down.

The Dr. Phillips High School football players are excited to add a state championship ring to their fingers.

While the drive stalled at the Atlantic 34, the success was in the 4 minutes burned off the clock and gave Stockwell another opportunity to flip the field with a punt down to the Atlantic 15. Still trailing 10-0, Atlantic immediately went to the air, but it proved disastrous. On second and 10, Cameron Williams, who was lined up at the 20, saw the Atlantic running back flare out to the right and immediately saw the screen pass coming.

Before the quarterback could even see him, Williams charged to his right, intercepted the pass with one hand, and, in a split second, was in the end zone, nearly buried under a pile of Panthers. For Williams, who has so consistently and quietly delivered all season long, this was his defining play of the year and the redemption he so richly deserved.

With a 17-0 lead and just over 9 minutes remaining, the DPHS defense was tested again on Atlantic’s ensuing possession. Completions for 18 and 23 yards gave the Eagles a first down at the DPHS 35, but one play later, Powell slipped into the backfield and drilled the quarterback for a 10-yard loss to forever wash away his disappointment of a year ago, as well.

Three plays later, on fourth and 5, Cameron Williams put the exclamation point on a perfect personal performance, breaking up a pass to give the football back to the Panthers. While Atlantic did score on its final drive of the game to make it 17-7, DPHS senior receiver Michael Fox recovered the onside kick with just more than 3 minutes remaining. DPHS still needed to get a first down to run out the clock, and what better way to do that than by putting the ball in the capable hands of Alford and McCray.

On third and 5, McCray knifed through the line for a gain of 12 and a first down. Alford ran one more time for 4 yards, and that was all the Panthers needed as the clock ran down to zero, icing DPHS’s first-ever football state championship.

Congrats to the Champs!

Much has been written about DPHS’s football program throughout the years. One thing many have stated is that while being a powerhouse program, DPHS could never be considered elite until it won that elusive state championship. The wait is over, and the crown fits.

Congratulations to head coach Rodney Wells, who, in seven years at the helm, upholds the standard of DPHS excellence without compromise, both on and off the field.

Congratulations also to the finest team of assistant coaches in the state of Florida: David Aubrey, Adrian Bouie, Steve Breitbeil, Tony Gulla, Bryan Ingrande, Boris Jackson, Jason Jackson, Ken Jones, Lorenzo Martinez, Roderick Ryles, Steve Schyck, Adam Sitter and Riki Smith.

Most importantly, congratulations to Dr. Phillips High School’s graduating seniors — all of them — who refused to let the disappointment of a year ago keep them from realizing just how great they could be. The sacrifices they made for each other, their coaches and their school, and their refusal to let self come before service, are the reasons they are champions
today, tomorrow and forever. ♥

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