Mainland forced 4 turnovers in its 22-0 win over the 2017 Class 8A state champions.
Through the first four weeks of the high school football season, Mainland's Brandon Whaley hadn’t recorded an interception. But in the second quarter of Mainland’s Week 5 matchup against Dr. Phillips, the senior defensive back ran step-for-step down the sideline with a Panthers wide receiver and ripped a long pass out of his opponent’s hands.
His first pick of the season set up a scoring drive for the Buccaneers, culminating in a 5-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Taron Keith to receiver Sam McKenzie, giving Mainland a 14-0 lead.
The Panthers’ offense had trouble moving the ball against the Buccaneers’ defense the entire night but were gifted an opportunity when the Buccaneers muffed a punt inside their own 25. The Panthers recovered the ball and had a chance to cut into the deficit with 33 seconds left in the half. But Whaley dove in front of a slant route to intercept the ball for the second time.
And finally, with 7:23 to play in the third quarter, a Panthers receiver tipped a short pass, sending the ball high into the air — and once again into the hands of Whaley, who returned his third interception 30 yards for a touchdown.
Whaley was part of a dominant defensive performance for the Buccaneers (3-2, 1-0) in their 22-0 win over the reigning Class 8A state champions on Friday, Sept. 22, at Daytona Stadium.
“Branden Whaley does not say much throughout the week,” Mainland coach Scott Wilson said after the game. “But he talks with his pads.”
The Panthers had the night’s first big play when Panthers quarterback Canaan Mobley connected with his 6-foot-3 tight end, Jackson Hodor, for a 52-yard touchdown. The score was taken off the board due to a block-in-the-back penalty. The Panthers had several other legitimate chances to score. In addition to the muffed punt to close the first half, the Buccaneers also fumbled a punt inside their own 40 midway through the second quarter.
But the defense held.
“A lot of things happen," Wilson said. "Mistakes could have been capitalized on, but thank goodness that they didn’t."
While the offense, plagued by penalties, struggled to find a rhythm, it was the defense that set the tone for the night. The Buccaneers held the Panthers to 79 yards rushing and 89 passing.
Eventually, the Buccaneers’ offense caught up.
While the Panthers’ defense keyed in on Buccaneers running back D’Andre McMillian, who scored 3 touchdowns in each of the first four games of the season and rushed for 99 yards against the Panthers, Keith slipped out of the backfield and went 51 yards untouched for the Buccaneers first score of the game.
Keith completed 16-of-25 passes for 106 yards and added 75 yards on the ground.
“He’s come a long way, and that’s a testament to his demeanor, his attitude and his character,” Wilson said. “The best thing about him being our quarterback is that you just have to love that kid.”
The Panthers threatened to score throughout the remainder of the game but could never seal the deal. A leaping interception in the back of the end zone by defensive back Kamron Lee as time expire preserved the Buccaneers’ statement win, which the team celebrated with a dance session conducted by Mainland’s marching band.
“We struggled with our chemistry to start the season,” Whaley said. “But tell everyone that we’re coming.”