PALMETTO -- For nearly 47 minutes during Palmetto's spring game against St. Petersburg on Friday, Jack Allison needed Octavious James to bail him and the Tigers out.
As Allison battled the whipping winds and a pesky Green Devil defense, James gashed St. Petersburg in his first formal appearance in a Palmetto uniform.
Even when the Tigers got the ball back with less than four minutes remaining and a three-point deficit, Palmetto tried to keep the ball with James. The Manatee transfer started the drive with a short gain. Then he used a back juke to avoid a near disaster and pick up a first down. Another short pickup by James placed the ball at the 28-yard line with the clock ticking.
But there was a miscommunication. The clock ticked below 1:30, and Palmetto was forced to call a timeout. Allison trotted to the sideline as the Tigers scrambled for a solution. When he came back onto the field, Allison came up with his best throw of the day.
Wide receiver Brandon Luckett ran a post pattern from the right side, and Allison stepped into the pocket. He fired toward the middle of the end zone, where his perfectly timed ball met Luckett for the game-winning touchdown in a 38-34 victory at Palmetto High School.
"I've seen this script written several times over the last three years," head coach Dave Marino said. "He's our leader, he's our captain. We have faith in him. We know that he can do those things."
It was redemption for Allison and Luckett, two of the most talented playmakers on the Tigers' potentially elite offense. Allison had thrown three interceptions. Luckett, a transfer from Lakewood Ranch, dropped one of Allison's passes that could have potentially extended a drive. The Tigers needed James, one of the newest additions to their offense, to keep them afloat against the
"I had to step up and do my thing," James said. "Jack was in a little hole, but it was his fault. He did what he had to do."
Palmetto fed its new running back immediately, and it resulted in a two-play, 25-yard drive and 7-0 lead. James burst up the middle on the Tigers' first offensive play for a 10-yard gain. After an encroachment penalty, wide receiver Azavion Smith took an end around from the right side into the end zone for an early Tigers lead.
By the end of the half, Palmetto found itself in an eight-point hole until James' 2-yard touchdown run for his first score in a Tiger jersey cut Saint Petersburg's lead to two entering the second half.
James had played against the Green Devils before, albeit as a seldom-used running back behind Johnnie Lang as a Hurricane, and as the winds whipped up at halftime and PHS was forced to go into the wind he knew he would be a focal point of the offense for the final 24 minutes.
"It was either going to be me carrying the load or us going for short passes," he said.
During the third quarter, he put them back ahead.
Early in the period, play was delayed more than 20 minutes when Green Devil defensive lineman Tyree Jones suffered an apparent back injury and was carried off by a stretcher and ambulance. St. Petersburg coaches were unaware of Jones' status immediately following the game.
When the game resumed, James took the ball on the first play and sliced through the Green Devils for 22-yard touchdown and 24-18 lead.
When James decided to transfer to Palmetto for its medical program, Marino knew he could be an immediate replacement for departed running back Quincy Washington. The Tigers faced James when he was a Cane and were confident in his ability to complement Allison and the PHS passing attack.
"We knew what we were getting," Marino said. "He's a special kid, he's a great kid."
In the fourth quarter, James added a third touchdown to his more than 100 yards on the ground to cut St. Petersburg's lead to three and set up Allison's heroics. This final touchdown run was his most impressive.
After Allison, the Miami-bound rising senior, tossed his third interception of the game, Palmetto made the stop it needed. On the Tigers second play, the quarterback handed the ball to James at the 32-yard line. He raced to the 25 and made one cut to his left. At the 20 he made another and ran into the end zone untouched.
"I was anxious to just get the ball in my hands, show what I can do," James said. "Just get my name out there."