Thoughts on Plant City’s game against Gaither, as seen from the sideline.
One thing I’ve often said about Plant City football these past few seasons is that when you have a player like Mario Williams on the field, you’re never really out of a football game.
Last weekend’s game against Gaither was further evidence of that. Williams didn’t score any touchdowns this time around, but he made his eight catches and 143 receiving yards count by getting the Raiders to good field position when they really needed it — especially in the second half, when his big play ability helped Plant City make it a one-score game when it previously felt like it could be out of reach. This is what I was talking about when I wrote last week that the Raiders needed to prioritize finding new ways to get him the ball, not that my opinion was going to sway the coaches one way or another, and they did just that.
Gaither mostly played really well and I could see how they managed to beat Plant the prior week. That’s a very good team with one very big disciplinary problem. You have to either be really lucky or really good to commit 22 penalties in a game and still win it. That lack of discipline ended up being a big benefit for Plant City as it fought to stay in the game and keep the chains moving.
Now that I’ve finally gotten to see the Raiders in regular-season action, things make more sense than it did when all I could do was check out box scores and other recaps from the previous two games. This team isn’t lacking talent across the board and I do believe that when the Raiders get rolling, they’re going to be hard for teams to stop. Jesuit found that out the hard way. But watching the team does feel like seeing it learn about itself on the fly, figuring out what will work going forward and what won’t. It looks like a team that lost a bunch of key players to college football and graduation, and is figuring out how best to make up for at least some of that production. I have no doubt that last year’s PCHS team, which had a wealth of experience to back up its talent, would have beaten this Gaither team last week. This could also be a really good team if and when the puzzle pieces fall perfectly into place.
Based on what I’ve heard and now seen this season, there are a couple of shout-outs I want to make based on last week’s performance. This isn’t to say only two Raiders played well, but rather to give credit to some folks I haven’t written as much about in the past as others.
As good as it is to have Williams and a thousand-yard running back like Zamir’ Knighten on offense, you can’t have just two players make up an entire offense. James Booth told me before the season that he was expecting Reagan Ealy to be a solid contributor in 2019 and I now totally understand what he saw then in the junior. Ealy picked up 77 yards and a touchdown he had to fight to get that Saturday night. That kid took his chance getting a new starting role and ran with it. If the Raiders can get the ball into his and Williams’ hands often, they can do some damage in a variety of ways.
I’ve heard plenty of good things about Antron Robinson since he’s been a Raider and I’m probably going to hear even more now that he’s out there looking like a real-deal focal point of the defense. I was wondering who on any unit would take the biggest step up when the core of Plant City’s defense, last year’s formidable linebacker trio that ended up playing in college, graduated. As well as Plant City’s been known for its linebackers, the school has also had a steady stream of legit defensive backs over the years I’ve been here and Robinson’s playing about as well right now as any I’ve covered. He’s listed on MaxPreps as having 11 total tackles in each of his two games played and ended the Gaither game with nine of his coming solo. Good stuff.
The main takeaway from the Raiders’ past two games is, even when you still have all-star talent spread around a roster, replacing lost all-star talent doesn’t always come as quickly as you’d like for it to. The Raiders’ schedule, which I’d argue is the toughest in all of Hillsborough County, isn’t going to offer the team many moments to get comfortable. And this week’s matchup comes against arguably the best team that has and will come through the Plant City area in my seven seasons covering this beat.
But with the team’s capable coaching, plus great talent on offense, defense and special teams, it’s still too early to write off the Raiders no matter how Friday’s game against Lakeland goes.