The last three games of the Palmetto High School football team’s season have certainly been an eye-opener.
After opening the season 6-1, the Tigers found themselves playing the heavyweights in the region —Braden River, Venice and Charlotte —and the lack of experience showed.
The Tigers were outscored 98-3 in the final three games, with the last being a 35-0 spanking at the hands of unbeaten Charlotte in the final regular-season game for both teams.
Charlotte’s Maleek Williams rushed 11 times for 187 yards and three touchdowns and the Tarpons defense bent but didn’t break as it made senior night special for the huge crowd.
While Charlotte (9-0) has a home date with Boca Ciega in the first round of the playoffs, Palmetto will get to work on next season, with a team that will feature 18 returning players, including most of their skill position players.
It’s uding most of their skill position players.
It’s enough to make Palmetto coach Dave Marino want 2017 to come in a hurry.
“We’re going to get bigger, stronger and faster and make the next step. These last three games showed us what big-boy football is about,” Marino said. “Our running backs and quarterback are all sophomores so we have kids coming back and we’re excited.”
Williams, committed to play for Arkansas, sent a jolt to the Tigers on Charlotte’s second possession with a 69-yard touchdown run to give the Tarpons a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
From there, both teams saw opportunities come and go. Palmetto’s Alfredo Manriquez missed two field goals in the first half while Dee Hicks’ 68-yard touchdown run was called back on a holding penalty.
But even though the Tigers (6-4) hung tough and had success through the air, Williams was too much as he took a direct snap on fourth down late in the second quarter and went up the middle for a 33-yard touchdown to give the Tarpons a 14-0 lead at the half.
Williams used his power to score his third touchdown, breaking several tackles as he bulled his way 13 yards for a 21-0 lead before the floodgates opened. Jayden Grant recovered a fumble and raced 55 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter, and Lavell Cudjo got into the act moments later with a 51-yard touchdown run to up the lead to 35 and force a running clock for the remainder of the game.
“We played a great game. I’m proud of our kids. We had a chance to be undefeated and I think it gave us focus,” Charlotte coach Binky Waldrop said. “We wanted to finish the right way.”
Palmetto’s sophomore quarterback Anthony Marino was 11 for 23 for 152 yards passing. Junior receiver Jason Spicer had five catches for 88 yards. The Tigers were outgained 314 yards to 58 in the running game.
“We don’t have anybody going to Arkansas. I like our sophomore and junior class who have been playing since they were sophomores,” Marino said. “The kids hurt, but the future is bright and I’m excited for what they’re capable of next year.”
C— Maleek Williams 69 run (Kenny Scriber kick) 9:17.
C— Williams 33 run (Scribner kick) 2:42.
C— Williams 13 run (Scribner kick) 8:02.
C— Jayden Grant 55 fumble recovery (Scribner kick) 2:16
C— Lavell Cudjo 51 run (Scribner kick) 10:21.
Rushing: Palmetto 25-58: Jacob Sullivan 1-18, Elso Garcia 4-15, Johnny Jones 6-8, Jason Spicer 2-4, Miles Myrick 1-4, Anthony Marino 9-4, Corian Brown 1-3, Lester Johnson 1-2. Charlotte 33-314: Maleek Williams 11-187, Lavell Cudjo 3-56, Dee Hicks 11-55, Ny Harvey 3-19, Andrew Grace 2-8, Brandon Manomat 2-(-4), Zach Radalusco 1-(-9).
Passing: Palmetto 15-30-0, 217: Anthony Marino 11-23-0, 152; Sidney Douglas 4-7-0, 65. Charlotte 3-6-0, 42: Dee Hicks 3-6-0, 42.
Receiving: Palmetto 15-217: Jason Spicer 5-88, Jacob Sullivan 4-56, Miles Myrick 1-41, Derek Marino 3-24, Reggie White 1-6, Corian Brown 1-2. Charlotte 3-42: Jacob White 2-38, Travon McClary 1-4.