PALMETTO -- Win or lose Friday night, the Palmetto Tigers knew their fate.
Next week is a Class 5A-Region 3 opener at Auburndale, so not a whole lot was hinging on Friday's regular-season finale against Ocala Trinity Catholic at Harllee Stadium.
Nonetheless, the Tigers' 27-7 win over the Celtics may serve as key momentum swing as Palmetto heads into the playoffs for a third straight year.
The Tigers (8-2) jumped out to a 7-0 start that landed them on top of the Class 5A state poll. But that was before a pair of humbling defeats at the hands of Manatee and Southeast, the second of which cost Palmetto a District 10 championship.
So Friday's win meant plenty.
"It's huge. We had only scored one
touchdown in the last two weeks," Tigers coach Dave Marino said. "So offensively, we needed to get some momentum, some confidence back. We did that a little bit (Friday), but we're still a work in progress. We've got to improve a lot."
The Tigers' offense still isn't humming as soundly as earlier in the season, when Palmetto averaged more than 36 points in its first seven weeks.
But Josh Hicks helped carry the load Friday. The junior running back chugged for a game-best 132 yards on just 16 carries and scored on a 25-yard run in the first quarter and an 81-yard run in the second to give Palmetto a 14-0 lead at the half.
Hicks struck again in the third, when he took a short pass from quarterback Chris Tuten, hugged the near sideline and scored from 35 yards out.
Tuten, was 12-of-24 for 127 yards and connected with Cory Crawford on a 9-yard strike with four minutes left in the game.
The defense, which yielded 93 points the last two weeks, came within 19 seconds of a shutout and got to Trinity Catholic quarterback Reid Carlton for four sacks.
"Rolling into the playoffs, we really need to pick up the confidence," Palmetto defensive end Josh Layhew said. "We suffered two losses but we stick together and came out and played ball and did what we needed to do."
Marino, however, thinks the unit can play better after allowing 249 total yards, including 155 on the ground.
"We're giving up too many yards, and we're on the field too much," he said. "We've got to force some more three-and-outs. And we're not doing that."
Now the Tigers turn their gaze to another playoff run, which Marino said will do nothing but help is fairly young team.
"We're going to use this time to teach technique and continue to emphasize technique for our young kids, some of who are going to be back for two or three more years," he said. "A lot of people are cashing it in after (Friday), and we're fortunate to have the opportunity to go out and practice at least one more week. And we'd like to be able to practice for a few more weeks."