ORANGE PARK - A first half that put half the Panther Stadium faithful on the edge of leaving the game to attend Friday night festivities elsewhere turned into about an 11 minute highlight film of …
ORANGE PARK - A first half that put half the Panther Stadium faithful on the edge of leaving the game to attend Friday night festivities elsewhere turned into about an 11 minute highlight film of defensive efforts turned to points as the Ridgeview High Panthers turned around a 17-3 snoozer of a first half into a thrill-packed fourth quarter en route to winning a first playoff game under coach Matt Knauss, a 38-20 win over Tavares in round one of region playoffs Friday night.
“We’ve been here before; dealing with adversity,” said Calise. “I don’t know who sparked who, but we got it done.”
The win propels the Panthers (7-3) to round two with a second round trip to Ocala Vanguard (6-1) as the Panthers must now set up to play a former Class 6A powerhouse program. Vanguard trampled over Crystal River 38-0 in their round one playoff.
After seeding Tavares a 17-3 lead off first half offensive woes and a tough front pushing Tavares offense, Ridgeview struck back with a 50 yard bomb to wide receiver Spencer Calise that seemed to jolt the Panther sideline.
“It was a dogfight,” said Knauss. “I don’t think we underestimated them, but there number 26 in the Wing T is deadly. It’s tough to stop. I think we got a little shellshocked at our first playoff game.”
Calise, who has become a top target for quarterback Max Monroe in the past three weeks, had to “climb the ladder” in the end zone to snatch the lob from Monroe for the score.
“Spencer Calise and Josh Dorsainvil on defense were the two plays that woke us up,” said Knauss. “From there, the energy overflowed.”
Knauss’ reference to Dorsainvil was a bonecrushing sack on Tavares quarterback that created a new atmosphere on the Ridgeview sideline.
“I think Jason (defensive coordinator Jason Smith) just went back to doing what we do; just play football in base defense and get after it,” said Knauss. “It was genius.”
The Smith genius turned into a Dorsainvil sack that led to a Miika Tuisano touchdown plunge after T.J. McClain crashed in on the Tavares punter who had bobbled the snap and started to run for his life toward the sideline.
“Coach Smith just said, “Stop him,’” said Dorsainvil. “I didn’t want to go home. We wanted to go to one more game. Coming off a 1-9 season last year, we’ve come a long way.”
Two plays later, Tuisano smashes up the middle to put Ridgeview up 23-20 after Calise’s acrobatics got the Panthers within striking difference of the lead.
“We just came out and went back to what we know how to do; the 3-3,” said Tuisano. “Whatever we did, it worked.”
After Tuisano’s blast, Ridgeview’s defense got another sack on Tavares with Darryl Carter and Dillon Torrenfranca crashing in to set up a punt to the 50.
From there, wideout Ed Whipple took a left side pitch near midfield, ran through three tackles and broke to the end zone to push the score up.
“I was going to do anything to get my team to the next game,” said Whipple, who had an ice wrap on his shoulder in the first half. “Spencer has been playing a big role as a second target for Max (Monroe) and that opens up our offense. It was a great catch.”
Knauss acknowledged that his two pass receiving targets are now understanding the complimenting of skill sets to each other.
“Spencer’s catch was a must-have with a guy draped on him on fourth down; it doesn’t get any bigger than that,” said Knauss. “Eddie was not going to let us bench him with his shoulder and put himself back into the game and came up with the nail in the coffin with that run.”
Ridgeview’s defense was not done just yet with a scrum at the Tavares 30 seeing A.J. Beaufort pop out of a pile of bodies with the ball and heading to the end zone for the final score.