Palmetto High's playoff hopes dashed in Venice

Dave Marino discusses the end of the playoff push by Palmetto

The Tigers dropped their second straight Class 7A-District 11 game, 45-10, to Venice.
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The Tigers dropped their second straight Class 7A-District 11 game, 45-10, to Venice.

VENICE -- As a nervous energy swirled on the Palmetto sideline before kickoff against Venice, Jack Allison, the 6-foot-5 senior quarterback, stood to the right of his three co-captains, ready to walk down the line and greet each one with a high five and a whack to the left side of the helmet before the coin toss

First was Azavion Smith, the dynamic receiver who spends his springs competing for state titles as a sprinter. Last was David Belvin, the defensive end who looks just like one should. A day earlier, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound defensive lineman committed to Florida Atlantic.

Between those two was James Kinley, Allison's impeccably skilled guard and the centerpiece of the line tasked with protecting the Miami commit. He is, however, undersized, just like most of the Tigers' front five. For the second straight week against a Class 7A-District 11 rival, PHS was faced with that harsh reality and bowed out of the playoff hunt with a 45-10 loss at Powell-Davis Stadium in Venice.

"We're just not big enough and strong enough to play 7A football right now," head coach Dave Marino said.

The four captains walked out to midfield where one of the faces greeting them was defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt. A month ago, this 6-foot-2, 290 pound senior was committed to Rutgers. For the next 48 minutes, he would stand across from Kinley as the Indian defense sacked Allison five times and limited Palmetto to 224 yards of offense.

The Tigers' only touchdown came on their third drive. PHS (6-3, 3-2) was faced with a third-and-20 from its own 16-yard line when Allison backpedaled and floated a screen pass to running back Octavious James, who turned it into a 59-yard gain. Five plays later, Allison connected with wide receiver Mykail Hillery from two yards out to cut Venice's lead to 21-7 at halftime.

Allison completed 14-of-22 passes for 161 yards. He also threw an interception on his final pass attempt of the game.

"Our kids played with all kind of heart and fight," Marino said. "We're just not big enough and strong enough. That's all you can say. If you're looking for something else magical, there's nothing there."

Palmetto's deficit was more pronounced on defense. The Indians, who are ranked No. 6 in 7A in the AP poll, found the end zone on each of their first three possession and scored on all but two. The only two drives which didn't end with points for Venice (8-1, 4-1) were the last of both halves, when quarterback Bryce Carpenter took a knee to run out the clock.

Even at the skill positions, the Indians were able to take advantage of size. Venice rumbled for 130 yards on the ground in the first half behind its mammoth line. In the passing game, Carpenter locked in on sophomore Jaivon Heiligh.

The 6-foot-2 wide receiver hauled in seven passes for 131 yards and won three jump balls for the Indians' three passing touchdowns.

"He's a special guy," Venice head coach John Peacock said. "I hate to keep saying it, but I've got two and a half more years with him. That's what's exciting."

In two weeks the Indians will play the winner from 7A-12 in the region quarterfinal while No. 2 Braden River plays the runner-up. The Tigers' season will officially end the week before when they host Charlotte in Palmetto for Senior Night.

In reality, though, it ended Friday in Venice when PHS' five-year postseason streak fell victim to a realities of its powerhouse district.

"You think your speed and athleticism is enough, but you've got to remember this is football. People line up and they go after each other and you better be strong. And we're not strong enough to compete with these two teams."