Atlantic’s fifth attempt to win a state football championship faltered Saturday night in chilly Orlando.
The Eagles couldn’t get their offense untracked against Orlando-Dr. Phillips, and fell 17-7 in the Class 8A title game at Camping World Stadium.
The championship followed a runner-up performance in last year’s state title game for the Panthers, who finished 13-2.
Atlantic, bidding for its first state title after finishing second four times in the 1970s, closed its season at 12-2.
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“We just couldn’t protect that well,” Eagles coach T.J. Jackson said. “I don’t know what it was. But I’m proud of the kids. They had a great season. They just fell a little short. They never gave up in this game. We just couldn’t get the ball moving on the offensive side. We couldn’t get field position. That’s what hurt us a lot.”
Atlantic struggled from the outset on offense.
The Eagles had a tough time throwing the ball, and didn’t fare much better on the ground. Penalties also hurt Atlantic, which totaled 40 yards of offense in the first half and punted on six of its seven possessions.
The second of those punts was blocked and scooped up by Japerri Powell, who scored from 8 yards out to give the Panthers an early 7-0 lead.
Dr. Phillips’ second score — a 28-yard field goal by Sterling Stockwell with 4:52 remaining in the first half — capped a seven-play drive that began on the Atlantic 44.
The Panthers began a number of their first-half drives with good field position after the Eagles faltered on offense, often deep in their own territory.
By the time the half ended, Atlantic had nearly twice as many penalty yards — 72 — as it had on offense.
“We just couldn’t move the ball,” Jackson said. “It happens sometimes.”
The Eagles were stopped again on their opening drive of the second half, but showed signs of life after forcing a quick Dr. Phillips punt.
Taking over on their 38, the Eagles drove inside the Panthers’ 30, picking up a trio of first downs along the way. But Atlantic fell six inches short on a 4th-and-2 running play, and handed the ball back to Dr. Phillips.
Another promising Eagles drive ended with a Panthers’ defender swatting down a fourth-down pass near the Dr. Phillips goal line.
The Panthers didn’t fare much better on offense in the second half, but their defense made up for that.
Cameron Williams picked off an Eagles’ pass and returned it nine yards for a touchdown, extending the Panthers’ lead to 17-0 with 9:53 remaining in the game.
The shutout didn’t last, though.
The Eagles scored on their final offensive possession, with quarterback Antoine Williams running it in from 24 yards out with 1:37 remaining.
“These kids never give up,” Jackson said. “This will hurt the kids, but at the end of the day, we’ll try to build from this.”