High School Sports

Prep football | Defense joins party as Palmetto Tigers rout Braden River Pirates 40-0

PALMETTO -- Entering the third week of the football season, Palmetto's explosive offense had lifted the Tigers to an unbeaten start.

The defense, still searching for an identity following the departure of nine starters off last year's 5A state semifinal club, wasn't in lock-down mode yet.

Enter defensive captain Josh Layhew, a senior and one of a few returnees from the 2011 team that came so close to a state title.

Layhew laid down the gauntlet, assuring the coaches and players that the defense would rise to the occasion in Friday's non-district game against visiting Braden River.

Layhew and Co. excelled in limiting the Pirates to just 47 yards of total offense in a 40-0 rout at Harllee Stadium, affectionately known as "The Jungle."

"We set a goal at 100 yards max total," Layhew said. "And our coaches said if we kept them below 100 yards, we definitely would step up from being last defense in the county. And

that's something we didn't like. We wanted to take pride in being number one."

The Pirates (0-3) held Palmetto to a scoreless first quarter, using a ball-controlling offense that limited the Tigers to only seven offensive plays in that period.

However, the Tigers (3-0) flashed their elusive speed in a 26-point second quarter.

And the top offensive weapon, for a third consecutive week, was the versatile Cory Crawford.

He rushed for 153 yards on nine carries and three touchdowns. The second rumble to pay dirt was his most impressive of the night, perhaps.

Crawford looked bottled up for a loss, before bouncing to the right and finding some blockers. From there, he zig-zagged toward the other side of the field in a move reminiscent of what Peter Warrick did during his Southeast and Florida State University days.

The play covered 35 yards, and it was part of a three carry streak where he scored on runs of 26, 35 and 65-yards. His gaudy tally also only included two quarters and one play of the third quarter, before he sat out the remainder of the game with the Tigers comfortably ahead.

However, Crawford's time at tailback appears over as head coach Dave Marino said Josh Hicks is expected to return next week against district rival Arcadia DeSoto. That will shift Crawford back to his role as wide receiver.

In his absence, Shaq Harris and E.J. Burston filled the void. Harris, who entered with monster receiving numbers including an 8-catch 171-yard performance last Friday, didn't record a reception against Braden River. He did spring Burston loose on Palmetto's opening score. Burston finished with a team-high 71 receiving yards on four catches.

But it was the defense that rose up, and gained the confidence moving forward to next week's district clash with DeSoto.

"Layhew said it, 'Coach, we're stepping up,'" Marino said. "They're getting better every week. When you replace nine starters on defense, they're going to go through a process of learning and developing. And we were excited for them to be able to step up, while the offense sputtered in that first quarter."