TARPON SPRINGS -- As he huddled his players together for the last postgame meeting of the season, Dave Marino praised Palmetto's senior class.
Then the Tigers' head coach had a message for his underclassmen: "I hope it hurts."
Marino wasn't reveling in his players' pain following Friday's 13-12 loss to Tarpon Springs East Lake in a Class 7A-Region 3 quarterfinal. Rather, he was trying to motivate them into a busy offseason, because the coach knows what needs to happen for the Tigers to win games like the one they had just lost.
"We just couldn't get any push up front," Marino said. "(Class) 7A football has got big boys -- big, strong kids. We've got to get bigger and stronger. If we're going to play 7A football, we've got to get bigger and stronger."
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The Tigers' defense limited East Lake (11-0), ranked second in the state in Class 7A, to one
touchdown and forced three turnovers. The offense, however, had a hard time moving the ball, thanks in part to the Eagles' big defensive line that limited the Tigers to 35 rushing yards and recorded back-to-back sacks of quarterback Jack Allison on Palmetto's last drive of the game.
Palmetto's defense helped lead the Tigers (5-6) to their first touchdown when Luis Quinones scooped an Eagles fumble and returned it to East Lake's 36. A personal foul helped move the ball to the 20, and Allison hit Simon Williams for a touchdown strike with 50 seconds to go in the half before a blocked point-after attempt prevented Palmetto from taking the lead and tied the game at 6.
Down 13-6 after a 13-yard by Artavis Scott at the 6:31 mark of the third quarter, the Tigers capped their best drive of the night, which went 68 yards, when Allison hit a leaping Katrell Hubbard in the back corner of the end zone for a 24-yard score.
But Evan Kitchell's kick was no good, and that was the last time each team scored. And after Weston Fordham (114 yards on 21 carries) bulldozed nine yards to a convert a fourth-and-1 from the Eagles' 46 with 4:48 remaining, Tarpon Springs ground down the clock before Palmetto turned the ball over on downs from its own 12.
Josh Hicks, who had 37 yards in the final prep game of his career, also had an interception in the end zone with 7:53 remaining. And defensive lineman River Ward added a pick himself.
It was the lowest point total of the year for the Eagles, who averaged more than 42 points per game during the regular season.
"That's a credit to our defensive schemes; our coaches worked their butts off," Marino said. "And our defensive line is big ... and they can stand toe-to-toe with their offensive linemen. Our offensive line is where we need to get a lot bigger.
"This offseason, they've got to be on a mission. We've got to get bigger and stronger, and that's the bottom line."