Gaither Cowboys defeat Plant Panthers 35-28


Rachel Slay

The Plant Panthers line up on offense against the Gaither Cowboys late in the fourth quarter.

Rachel Slay, Editor-in-Chief

The Gaither Cowboys are heading into Week 3 toting a 2-0 record after beating the infamous Plant Panthers 35-28 

Plant entered the night 0-1 after losing to Armwood 38-3, their largest point differential in a loss since their appearance in the state championship in 2016.  In the minds of the Cowboys, their reputation of dominance was faltering.  And they had an opportunity to push it over the edge. 

The Cowboys went down by seven early after granting the Panthers 45 yards from personal foul penalties, giving Tucker Gleason the opportunity to rush for a TD.  

Quarterback Tony Bartalo was eager to answer.  Following a fumble recovery by the defense, Bartalo rushed on third-and-long and gained a fresh set of downs before closing the 52-yard drive with a touchdown pass to wide receiver Deveon Knighton

Gaither went into the locker room down 14-7 but knew that the game wasn’t over for them and that this was just the start of a long battle.  

“We had to just keep playing our game… the offense had to have the defense’s back and the defense had to have ours.  That’s what really helped us go into the second half,” said Bartalo.   

The Cowboy defense came out hot in the third quarter. 

Constant pressure from the defensive line forced the first punt of the game.  Bartalo followed by nailing two first down passes: one to receiver Jordan Oladokun and one more to Knighton.  Wide receiver Drelin “Speedy” Pittman was left without a defender in sight and caught Bartalo’s pass to knot up the score at 14-14.  

The Cowboys began to take advantage of Plant’s weak secondary.

A near perfect double pass play from Bartalo to Knighton to Oladokun granted a 76-yard Cowboy TD early in the fourth.  Plant managed to block the PAT, keeping their lead at 21-20. 

Sophomore defensive end Mario Eugenio shut down Plant’s next possession with a momentum shifting sack to force a punt.  Bartalo connected with Pittman once again for a quick 67-yard TD. Gaither led 28-21 with a little over six minutes on the clock.  

It was at this point that it felt like they “could really win this,” Bartalo said. 

Gaither pulled away after Plant was forced to punt yet again and Knighton caught his second TD pass of the evening, stretching the Cowboy lead to 35-21.  

“This game was for my grandpa.  He died last year… and this is for the seniors who left and didn’t get to win against Plant,” Knighton said.  

Plant squeaked out one more TD and attempted an onside kick but it was recovered by Cowboy defensive end Dominic Fenno, ending the game. 

Gaither will travel to Plant City next week to take on the Raiders (1-1).