Tigers improve to 3-0 but still have plenty of work to do

SARASOTA

Dave Marino is looking at the big picture.

The veteran coach wants his Palmetto High football team to compete for championships.

Some Tigers are on board but Marino wants all 50 guys on the roster to be on the same page.

Palmetto turned in another winning performance Friday night with a 38-28 victory over Riverview High at the Ram Bowl.

The Tigers moved to 3-0 in another sloppily played game delayed 40 minutes in the middle of the first quarter because of inclement weather.
While the record is unblemished, Palmetto’s play is not.

“We’ve got a long way to go if we want to be champions,” Marino said. “The true champions we have, there have to be more of them. It’s got to spread and it’s gotta be who we are.”

The Tigers took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter before the rains came and never looked back. Taking the opening kickoff 65 yards in 13 plays, the drive stalled at the Rams’ 6-yard line before Rafael Gonzalez booted a 23-yard field goal.

After the delay that came with 6 minutes, 24 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Riverview (1-2) had a chance to tie the game with a 30-yard field goal, but it sailed wide right.

A fortunate bounce helped the Tigers add to their lead. Kendall Reynolds recovered a fumble on a Palmetto interception and took it the final 20 yards for a 10-0 lead 41 seconds into the second quarter.

Using a strong running attack, the Rams got on the board on their next series, going 80 yards in eight plays, seven on the ground, with Tray Hall going over from 2 yards out.

The Tigers essentially put the game away with two touchdowns in a 74-second span in the middle of the second quarter.

Xavier Williams hooked up with LaJohntay Wester on a 70-yard bomb.

“Xavier had an outstanding game. He grew,” Marino said of his senior quarterback, who went 7-for-13 for 153 yards in the first half and rushed for 82 yards in the game. “He’s in control of our offense now. He’s pulling it when he sees it. He’s more comfortable. Hats off to him.”

After the first of two interceptions by Daemon Hill, Williams and Wester again connected, this time on a 29-yard pass that set up Sagel Hickson’s 4-yard scoring run, the first of his two touchdowns.

“He’s been starting since he was a sophomore,” Marino said of Hill, who had another pick later in the second quarter. “He’s got all kind of D-1 offers. That’s what he should be doing. He’s a senior, a leader and being battle tested. He’s gotta be the catalyst to drive this bus with the other guys.”

The Tigers’ offensive line, which took major strides last week in an overtime victory over Manatee High, again was dominant.

“The offensive line dominated tonight. They took big strides forward,” Marino said. “Where are the rest of the battle-tested, three-year starters? The O-line is doing what they are doing — yhey’re getting better every day. They won the game for us offensively. If the other skill guys step up and stay focused and start delivering, we’ve gonna be a very dangerous offense.”

Michael Hayes’s 1-yard touchdown with 71 seconds left before halftime got Riverview within 24-13 after the PAT kick failed.

Getting the second half kickoff, the Rams pulled closer early in the third quarter on a 26-yard scamper by Hayes that capped a six-play drive. The PAT kick by Dorian Hall made it 24-20 Palmetto.

“Consistency. Championship teams are consistent,” Marino said. “When they have a team down, we just let them hang around. At some point it’s gonna bite us.”

Hickson’s second touchdown came on second effort, bouncing to the outside when nothing was open in the middle. Williams had a tuck-and-run for 26 yards 29 seconds into the fourth and the Tigers’ lead swelled to 38-20.

The Rams committed three offensive turnovers, another on special teams, allowed two long scoring passes and missed a pair of field goals.

“Nothing about that says win,” Riverview coach Josh Smithers said, “especially against Palmetto that is so good. We didn’t tackle well. Anything we could do wrong we did wrong.”

Trickery on a pass from halfback Hayes to Duke Timmons and a two-point conversion from Sean White to Timmons got the Rams within 10.
“It was only a 10-point game,” Smithers said. “We did a lot of good things on offense, ran the ball well against a good, physical defense. Our kids never quit. That’s more important. That attitude is probably more important than anything.”

Hall rushed for 143 yards on 20 carries. Hayes gained 85 on the ground on nine attempts, as Riverview gained 320 yards on the ground.

“We’ve got to practice a little bit better,” Smithers said. “A lot of times in games like this it’s little things.  We couldn’t put anything together tonight that will help us. You can’t do that against a Palmetto team. It probably should have been worse.

“It comes down to making plays. We did everything not to do that. It wasn’t our night tonight.”

Hickson rushed for 106 yards on 17 carries, as Palmetto amassed 317 yards on the ground.  

Palmetto plays its first district game Friday at Port Charlotte High. The Tigers are looking for their first district title since 2011.

Riverview also plays its first district game Friday at home against Davenport Ridge Community.