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Plano East shows flashes of potential in preseason scrimmage with Highland Park

by | Aug 18, 2023 | Sports

The Plano East Panthers took the field for the first time this spring, showing flashes of potential for the upcoming season. 

Traveling to Highland Park Thursday night, both sides traded their shots and worked to fine-tune their process before the opening game of the season next Friday, Aug. 25. Head coach Tony Benedetto was pleased with the effort as he felt he learned more about his team during the evening.

“I thought it was a good tell for us, seeing some kids were willing to play aggressively and recklessly like they were ready for the moment,” Benedetto said. “Then some of the kids maybe the moment was a little too big for them, and it means a lot to see what kids we can depend on and what kids we need to improve.” 

The Panthers started the evening a little slower than they would’ve liked, stalling on their opening offensive possession. 

On the last play of their first sequence on offense, quarterback Drew Devillier connected with Jaylon Hatcher on a big 50-plus-yard reception. While they could not continue that drive and score, it set a nice rhythm for the first-team offense, who scored in their second sequence and looked much more relaxed the rest of the evening. 

One of the biggest questions of the offseason was the skill position talent for Plano East. They graduated several key senior contributors from last season. While many starters were seniors with some experience, it wasn’t as much as the Panthers would’ve liked.

That group rounded into form quickly in the scrimmage. Without Josh Palma and Ezra O’Neal III, both players who expect to play next Friday and be contributors in the passing game, the Panthers found some explosive plays in the passing game. Caden Warner had several receptions, and the Panthers moved the ball down the field with effectiveness throughout the evening.

“I thought our offense played well and did better when we increased the tempo, scoring on our second drive,” Benedetto said. “When our first team played their first team, it was pretty even, but you could see our lack of depth when our second team played their second team. With Ezra and Josh, who were just nursing some injuries, other skilled guys played, and I thought they did a good job.” 

Plano East had stressed the importance of guys playing on both sides of the ball this offseason, viewing depth as a key weakness in the roster from last year. That stuck out during the scrimmage, as Highland Park’s second team scored multiple times on the Plano East defense, and the offense stagnated in those moments. 

For Coach Benedetto, it reinforced the team’s philosophy from the offseason, as two-way standouts Desmond Smith and Andrew Earls both played well on offense while working in the backfield. 

“It shows, even in our junior varsity level, we had a strong JV1 team, but JV2 struggled at times,” Benedetto said. “We have to do what we did in spring ball and teach kids both sides of the ball to help us during the season. We had three kids play both ways and will probably have them continue to do that throughout the year, and maybe some linemen later in the year. Desmond and Andrew played well at running back, and you wouldn’t have seen them there last season.”

Defensively, the Panthers started a little slower than they would’ve liked. They gave up a score on their opening drive to the Scots’ first-team offense but settled into the game after a difficult conversation on the sideline with the defensive coaching staff.

From there, the defensive intensity improved, and they held Highland Park’s high-powered offense scoreless the rest of the game.

“Coach [Andre] Williams, our defensive coordinator, is doing a great job of building their own culture within the defense,” Benedetto said. “They’re playing hard, but they’re also holding each other accountable. They were frustrating because they had a great route concept on our defense to score, but our kids also missed the coverage and gave up the touchdown.”

The players took that conversation to heart, as they played well for the remainder of the scrimmage and showed more intensity. They managed to force and recover one fumble during the live quarter and made a goal-line stand to end the quarter scoreless between the two sides.

“Those seniors and those leaders are refusing to let the mistakes of the past trickle into this season,” Benedetto said. “We still have room to improve in the secondary, that’s going to be our area to keep improving on, but we have the pieces to hold up during the year.”

Plano East’s defensive line made some impressive plays throughout the final two series’ on defense, with Chima Chineke and Jadyn Lindsey getting in the backfield on multiple occasions. Facing an offense in the Scots’ that threw for over 3,000 yards and 34 touchdowns last season, the Panthers’ defense got a test before week one. The new 3-4 defense held up in the end, getting multiple big stops and showing off their team speed. 

“Ire James, Jadyn Lindsey and our linebackers flew around the ball and played well,” Benedetto said. “I liked being in that 3-4 last night, having more guys in space making plays and playing faster. We rallied to the ball a lot better and did a good job of not letting one missed tackle turn into a touchdown because we won’t make every tackle.”

Most importantly, Plano East came out of the scrimmage without injury, as they now gear up for their home opener against Rowlett. The Panthers won 31-27 last season when the two sides faced off to open the year, but the Eagles bring back some talent ahead of the new year, the kickoff between the two sides is scheduled for 7 p.m. The temperature forecasted temperature is 105 degrees on Friday.

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