LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The Palmetto High football team has a reputation for possessing an explosive offense.
But in a game when things sputtered on that side of the ball, the Tigers used their defense and special teams to lock up a 33-19 victory over host Lakewood Ranch on Friday night in a Class 7A-10 showdown.
The triumph leaves Palmetto (4-3, 2-0) as the only unbeaten team left in district play. Lakewood Ranch (4-2, 2-1) can still go to the postseason if it defeats Sarasota in its only remaining district game.
Palmetto showed why it is the area's second-ranked team in total defense. The Tigers bottled up Lakewood Ranch's highly touted dual-threat quarterback Chad Rex and had him under duress nearly the entire game.
Rex had completed 44 of 64 passes coming into the game. But he rarely found time to throw and connected on only 6 of 24 passes for 62 yards and was picked off twice. His top receiver Cameron Pearcey caught one pass.
"We did some things schematically up front and used some different blitzes and gave Rex a little bit different look. He is a tough kid, an athletic kid and has a lot of heart," Palmetto head coach Dave Marino said. "We felt we had to do some things differently on defense to try and corral him and keep him penned up, and the defense did a good job. The fact we got a pass
rush up front didn't give him much of a chance to see Pearcey."
Palmetto used its defense and special teams to take an early lead. Luis Quinones intercepted a pass to give the Tigers the ball on their own 34. Josh Hicks exploded for a 40-yard run to bring it to the Ranch four and took it into the end zone on the next play.
On the ensuing possession, Lakewood Ranch was back to punt when the ball was snapped over the head of Rex, who is the Mustangs' punter. Terry Collins fell on the loose ball in the end zone, and the Tigers had a two-touchdown lead with 5:38 remaining in the first quarter.
Wyatt McLeod caught a four-yard TD pass from Rex less than two minutes into the second period, but Palmetto came right back with a 23-yard TD pass from Jack Allison to Hank Allison.
A 23-yard touchdown pass from Jack Allison to Katrell Hubbard set up a one-yard TD run by Hicks as Palmetto extended its lead to 27-6 less than four minutes into the second half and looked as if it was going to break the game open.
Lakewood Ranch aided by some Palmetto penalties cut its deficit to 27-13 on a seven yard touchdown reception by Pearcey. But again the Tigers responded with Hubbard hauling in a 63 yard TD pass from Jack Allison.
Lakewood Ranch got a break in the fourth quarter when Ty Mcleod picked up a fumble by Jack Allison and ran 45 yards for a touchdown to cut Palmetto's lead to 33-19 with 9:42 left in the game, but that finished off the scoring for both teams.
"The big plays really killed us. You can't get into a hole against athletes like that. Once you get into a hole they pretty much have their whole playbook to do what they want," Lakewood Ranch head coach Shawn Trent said.
"The punt killed us. We knew we would have a tough time with all the young people we have up front on our offensive line. We knew we would have a hard time protecting Rex."
The Lakewood Ranch defense did a decent job limiting Hicks to 116 yards on 17 carries.
Rex was held to minus 10 yards rushing on 19 carries and was sacked or tackled for a loss nine times. The Mustangs' top offensive player was Justin Fischer, who ran for 77 yards on eight carries.