High School Football

Prep football | No. 1-ranked Palmetto Tigers to tangle with Lakewood Ranch Mustangs

MANATEE -- They both lost tons of talent off last season's playoff teams.

They both have winning records heading into Friday night's clash.

And each is coming off a nail-biting victory to open the district schedule.

But that's where the similarities end for the Palmetto and Lakewood Ranch football teams.

Palmetto, which returned a wealth of skill players on offense, sport a 4-0 record and a No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press Class 5A state poll.

Lakewood Ranch (3-1) isn't atop any ranking, but the Mustangs are brimming with confidence. With just a handful of returnees from 2011, the Mustangs are one punt return by Southeast's Courtney Allen away from an unbeaten start.

"We are very happy to be 3 and 1," Ranch head coach Shawn Trent said. "But we also understand we could be 1 and 3 really easy also. ... We had a chance to beat Southeast, and that's the thing, especially with how young we are as a team that you kind

of hope that you get building blocks week-by-week."

Sophomore quarterback Chad Rex piloted the Mustangs to last week's 22-21 Class 6A-District 7 triumph over Gulfport Boca Ciega.

Rex rushed for two touchdowns, threw for another and dived in for the deciding two-point conversion just before halftime.

The Mustangs' ability to play up to the competition, as evidenced by last fall's close playoff loss at Seffner Armwood, a nationally ranked opponent at the time, can help this year's club, despite all the youthful faces.

Trent said following Thursday's practice that to beat the speedy Tigers, his team will have to limit big offensive plays.

Meanwhile, Palmetto is also coming off a dogfight in last Friday's 9-7 squeaker over Arcadia DeSoto in the Tigers' 5A-12 opener.

The Tigers are entering Friday night's game at Lakewood Ranch banged up.

Star offensive player Cory Crawford, who leads the area in rushing, has been ruled out with an injury, head coach Dave Marino said.

Crawford took over the running back duties in Week 1 from his wide receiver position after starter Josh Hicks went down with an injury early in the third quarter.

Hicks was moved to defense along with original starting quarterback Spencer Atkins last week.

Marino said Quincy Washington will get the call up from junior varsity to start against Lakewood Ranch with Hicks getting carries as well.

"It's the team culture we create here," Marino said. "Everybody knows that we're going to hold them accountable to be responsible, to be student-athletes, to be good citizens in the hallways. And they know if they don't do that, and they don't live up to that standard then they won't play. So we're always prepared for that scenario, if a kid falls short in the hallway or in the classroom that the next guy is going to get his chance. And they prepare that way."

Staying true to that mind set is Shaq Harris, who hasn't always lined up at his primary wide receiver position. Harris played a few snaps on defense against both Sarasota and Braden River.

"Different, yeah," Harris said. "But coach needed me to do what was best for the team. Coach told me come play here, so I just played there."

He also churned out monster receiving games the first two weeks, but didn't record a catch against Braden River.

"Blocking is more important than catching the ball," Harris said. "You have to block. In order to be a receiver, you've got to block."