PALMETTO -- It was apparent to Palmetto head coach Dave Marino shortly after the final buzzer of Friday's pivotal Class 7A-District 10 game against visiting Sarasota.
The Sailors simply wanted the victory more.
"Sarasota wanted to be a champion (Friday)," Marino said. "They wanted it more than our kids did. That's the bottom line. ... In October, you either want to be a champion or you don't. Those kids wanted to be champions."
Sarasota found the ball more than Palmetto did in the special teams portion of the game during the second half at Harllee Stadium, and reaped the rewards en route to a 26-22 victory.
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The triumph throws the 7A-10 race into a three-horse contest for two playoff berths following Friday night's action.
Palmetto (4-4 overall, 2-1 district) fell into a three-way tie with Sarasota (4-4, 2-1) and Lakewood Ranch, who was idle from district play. Braden River's 35-14 loss to North Port sent the Pirates dizzying to a two-loss district campaign and out of the postseason hunt.
With the Mustangs and Sailors meeting next week, it's a simple formula for the Tigers to get into the postseason for the fourth consecutive year: beat Braden River and they are in. A victory coupled with a Sailors loss nets Palmetto a district title.
"We either put ourselves in the thick of it or we lay down and die," Marino said. "We'll see what the character of our team is made of."
On Friday, the Tigers didn't show Marino that they wanted to win a district championship in a couple key moments.
And they each came in the special teams department.
Sarasota blocked a punt, recovered a short kick that no Palmetto player fielded, and recovered a late Tigers onside kick attempt after the ball squirted to the ground for anyone to pounce on.
That last play wrapped the game up for Sarasota.
"They are dying for an opportunity for something like this to happen," Sailors head coach Ed Volz said. "It's been a long building process over the last four years, and we've got one more and a chance to win a district title. They were feeling it and smelling it."
Rutgers bound running back Josh Hicks produced 165 rushing yards on 18 attempts, highlighted by his 72-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that gave Palmetto its final lead at 14-10.
From there, Sarasota scored on three consecutive fourth quarter positions, with a 37-yard field goal from backup kicker Billy Sadlo and two Shawn Bane Jr. scores -- a 45-yard reception and four yard run.