Every week, Palmetto High’s moniker on Twitter changes to fit the upcoming football opponent.
The school’s athletic account on the social media site alters to hype that week’s challenge.
For the regular-season finale on Friday, it’s “Beat Charlotte.”
That references Punta Gorda Charlotte, a team that’s in a similar boat to Palmetto High after a last-second field goal saved the Tarpons’ season against longtime rival Port Charlotte last week.
Both teams are fighting for a playoff berth in the Florida High School Athletic Association’s new points format, where only district champions are guaranteed a place in the postseason.
“With their being playoff ramifications, it just makes it that much more important,” Palmetto head coach Dave Marino said.
Opening the playoffs up to teams saddled in difficult districts, such as Palmetto in 7A-11 — or the Miami district in 6A that saw Miami Central, Northwestern, Carol City and Norland vying for two playoff spots when all four are state title contenders in past seasons — has put an emphasis on the final week of the regular season.
For the Tigers, that means doing the opposite of the last two years when facing the Tarpons.
In 2015, Palmetto rested Miami-committed quarterback Jack Allison, who transferred to West Virginia earlier this year, in favor of having possession receiver Jason Spicer Jr. taking snaps as a way to test what the Tigers’ offense would look like the next season.
In 2016, Spicer moved back to wide receiver so Anthony Marino could play quarterback to give a glimpse into this year’s offense.
It’s a must-win for Palmetto in locking up the sixth seed, and a loss only creates uneasiness under the FHSAA’s mathematical-based points formula.
“We felt like, even though we were third in the district the last two years, that we were in the top eight in the region, which we were and which we are now,” Dave Marino said.
So that means making a key switch with a player that encompasses strength, mental acumen, experience and leadership in the most pivotal area of a football field: the trenches.
Eriq Porter, a three-year starter on the offensive line, went from center to left guard to start the year and kept flourishing in the new role. Then when Jesse West picked up an injury against Sarasota on Sept. 29, Porter slid into the left tackle spot.
“Strong, tough and relentless,” Marino said. “Those are the three words (to describe him). He is very strong and he just comes off the football, and he is relentless. He has that motor that just keeps going and going.”
Now Porter is asked to play both ways against the Tarpons with starting defensive lineman John Bembry out with an injury sustained against Lakeland Lake Gibson on Sept. 22. He’ll line up as a defensive tackle, and his grasp of the playbook is only one reason why Marino felt confident in making the move.
But Marino waited to do it until now, because the team couldn’t afford for Porter, who Marino dubs as the team’s most valuable offensive player, to be lost to injury with so many regular season games remaining.
“Now we’re getting into some dire straits,” Marino said.
Those dire straits include a must-win scenario for Palmetto to avoid crunching numbers and waiting for the FHSAA’s playoff team announcement on Sunday.
“We need this win to go to the playoffs, and we need to go out and execute as a whole team,” Porter said.
In addition to Porter’s inclusion on both sides, Palmetto’s offense took a different look following a loss to Braden River.
The Tigers lost Spicer to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which ended his senior football season.
The next man up was backup quarterback Lajohntay Wester, a sophomore with explosive speed that isn’t causing the Tigers to miss a beat.
“It’s a big spot, but ... I want to be a leader, I want to get the ball in my hands,” Wester said.
Week 11 schedule
IMG White at Key West, 7 p.m.
Out-of-Door Academy at Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.
Bayshore at Mulberry, 7:30 p.m.
Braden River at St. Petersburg, 7:30 p.m.
Lakewood Ranch at Arcadia DeSoto County, 7:30 p.m.
Venice at Manatee, 7:30 p.m.
Punta Gorda Charlotte at Palmetto, 7:30 p.m.
Harmony at Southeast, 7:30 p.m.
IMG Blue at Hoover (Ala.), 8 p.m.