The Gatorade bath was something Lester Johnson planned with teammate Isiah Washington for head coach Dave Marino.
They were two of Palmetto High’s 18 seniors who made a promise to Marino.
That pledge was getting the Tigers to the playoffs.
On Friday at Harllee Stadium, Palmetto left any mathematical doubt aside under the new Florida High School Athletic Association playoff format with a 31-17 victory over Punta Gorda Charlotte.
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Palmetto (6-3) started on the back foot, extending Charlotte’s opening drive with a roughing the passer penalty on a long third down conversion.
The Tarpons (5-4) capitalized on that mistake with quarterback Alex Muse’s 7-yard touchdown run on the 14-play opening drive.
But on this Friday, the near-misses and absence from the playoffs over the past two seasons were suddenly gone.
A kick return scheme devised during practice for this week’s opponent, and one that Lajohntay Wester practiced six times a day, was put to use.
Wester burst forward, cut to the outside and provided the Tigers with a 67-yard kick return and a short field to strike from.
Anthony Marino connected with Gione Buchanan for a 15-yard game-tying touchdown.
The play also featured three personal foul penalties on Charlotte for targeting, meaning Palmetto’s ensuing kickoff was from the Tarpons’ 30-yard line.
So Palmetto went for an onside kick, though a Tigers’ penalty forced a redo, which they recovered.
Elijah Davis scored the first of two touchdowns, and Palmetto didn’t trail the rest of the way.
A scary moment occurred midway through the third quarter when Muse was hit late out of bounds.
He was injured on the play and a roughly 25-minute delay was caused with an ambulance taking him away from the field.
In his place was Anthony Squitieri, who previously played at Palmetto and Out-of-Door Academy.
The Tigers pounced with Derrick Bradley intercepting Squitieri’s first pass attempt.
It was one of four turnovers for Palmetto’s defense.
It was also symbolic of how Palmetto shifted momentum each time the Tarpons started gaining their own through a couple Palmetto fumbles.
But instead of crumbling under the pressure in a must-win game for the program’s first playoff berth in a few years, the Tigers responded.
Now Palmetto waits for Sunday’s FHSAA announcement with the first-round pairings and seeds for the Class 7A-Region 3 playoffs.
And it’s a feeling that the team celebrated with an emphatic Gatorade bath for head coach Marino following Friday’s crucial victory.
Braden River defeated St. Pete High, 38-14, on the road in another Friday football game.
Bryan Gagg tossed three touchdowns. Knowledge McDaniel had two touchdowns, while Deshaun Fenwick and Craivon Koonce also scored.