After Braden River took care of business with a 42-14 win against Cape Coral Ida Baker on Friday, Pirates head coach Curt Bradley could finally process some of the other results from around the area. The eye-catching one was obvious: Venice’s 42-7 beatdown of Manatee.
It was the sort of statement the Indians could make to assert their supremacy in the region. A year ago, Braden River duked it out with Venice as district rivals and eventually in the Class 7A-Region 3 semifinals with the Pirates triumphing in both meetings. With Braden River graduating most of its offense and the Indians returning the bulk of its roster, logic seemed to dictate a slight edge for Venice in 2016. Friday’s win was convincing evidence.
“On the surface, any time you see Manatee loses like that, obviously it’s shocking,” Bradley said Saturday. “We also think Venice is a machine right now. They’re on a roll.”
At the quarter pole of the high school football season, it’s evident that Class 7A-District 11, featuring defending playoff teams Braden River and Venice, is once again the premier district in the 941 area code footprint.
The Indians made their statement and the Pirates are rolling through their early season schedule, but Palmetto has shown off an exceptional defense while starting 2-1, and Sarasota continues to succeed despite a rash of transfers after last season. District play begins for most of the state Friday and Class 7A-11 will be in the spotlight. Braden River faces archrival Lakewood Ranch, and the Tigers travel to Sarasota to face the Sailors.
98Combined margin of victory for Class 7A-District 11 playoff hopefuls Venice, Braden River, Sarasota and Palmetto on Friday.
Palmetto’s district-opener should be more telling than the Pirates’ — Lakewood Ranch is off to a disappointing start after a 41-3 loss to Sarasota Riverview on Friday — but if Braden River and Venice follow the same trajectory as last season another late-season, de facto championship match could be inevitable.
“We haven’t arrived by any means,” Bradley said. “Last year, when we got to that first game, we felt like we were as good as we were going to be the whole season. From Week 1 to Week 14, the only thing we can do is not be as good because of injuries or health reasons or whatnot. Last year, from Week 1 on we were as good as we were going to be.
“This year there’s such an emphasis on getting better every single week regardless of opponent.”
The Pirates’ sustained excellence on defense from a year ago hasn’t been surprising. Tyrone Collins and Demetrius Lawson are perhaps the two best defensive backs in the county, Deqwunn McCobb is an experienced anchor on the defensive line and Taylor Upshaw is an emerging defensive end in his first season with the program. The offense was the question.
Instead, Braden River is doing the same thing it did last year: feast on a relatively easy early-season schedule. Raymond Thomas hasn’t lost much after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last year and Deshaun Fenwick’s leap as a junior gives the Pirates a one-two punch of top running backs.
“That’s a heck of a combination to have, in our opinion, two Division I tailbacks in the backfield,” Bradley said. “We have so much confidence in (offensive coordinator Eric) Sanders and what he does as far as preparation to get those guys ready to go. He deserves so much credit for everything he does on that side of the football.”
Palmetto and the Sailors hope they can crash the top two, though, and Friday could show who has the best chance. Sarasota is 3-0 behind standout quarterback Josh Gagg, while the Tigers continue to oppress opposing offenses.