PALMETTO -- Dave Marino calls him a Division-I prospect.
On Friday night, Zane Kitchell’s powerful right leg lifted Palmetto over Wauchula Hardee 16-13 in a pivotal Class 5A-District 10 football game on homecoming at Harllee Stadium.
Kitchell booted three field goals, but none was bigger than his 49-yard blast with 8.8 seconds remaining that completed a comeback for Palmetto (7-0, 3-0).
Hardee tried icing Kitchell with a timeout, but the move backfired.
Never miss a local story.
The senior said he was nervous when he first went out for the 49-yarder, but the timeout gave him the opportunity to return near the Tigers’ sideline, where Marino awaited.
“Coach started making jokes and stuff, and that’s when I started feeling better,” said Kitchell, who also converted field goals from 30 and 23 yards. “I just didn’t think about it then, I just kicked it. He was asking me if I was going to the dance (Saturday). And we were just joking how I can’t dance.”
Palmetto’s victory gives the club complete control over its destiny, with just one district game remaining -- a battle with county foe Southeast in two weeks.
The Noles defeated Bayshore on Friday, improving to 2-0 in the district, and head to Hardee next week.
The Wildcats held a 13-6 lead at the half behind a punishing ground game from their trademark Power-I formation that looks more like a wishbone offense.
Hardee racked up 107 rushing yards before the break and scored its second touchdown off Palmetto quarterback Trent Miller’s first of two interceptions with 1:09 remaining in the second quarter.
But the second half was when Palmetto’s stingy defense came to life. The Tigers limited the Wildcats to just 31 second-half rushing yards and forced a fumble early in the fourth quarter deep into their own territory that led to a scoring drive to knot things at 13-13.
That drive looked complete with a dash to pay dirt on the fourth play, but a block in the back penalty negated Miller’s 77-yard touchdown toss to wide receiver Shaq Harris.
“I was just trying to get them focused, because there’s nothing you can do about it,” said Miller, who completed the drive with a 1-yard plunge with three minutes remaining.
The defense, buoyed by former Tigers standout and current UF redshirt sophomore Kedric Johnson’s pleas on the Palmetto sideline for a stop, backed Hardee to its 1-yard line following a pair of sacks.
Da’Qual Randall had the first, and then a plethora of Palmetto defenders buried Hardee quarterback Colby Baker at the Wildcats’ 1.
A short punt gave Palmetto the ball at Hardee’s 36 with just 1:26 remaining. After three plays yielded five yards, the stage was set for Kitchell’s dramatic game-winning kick.
The ball split the uprights with room to spare.
“Who does that? I mean, no other high school kicker kicks that,” Miller said. “That’s clutch. I told him right before the kick, I said, ‘Zane, if we get it, I know you’re going to kick it through.’”
Kitchell said he hasn’t received any offers outside of The Citadel, which was “a long time ago.”
On Friday, he proved how special his right leg is to the Palmetto program.