Analysis, results, photos from Friday night’s area high school football playoff games – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Venice, Riverview, Braden River and Palmetto all survive, advance to region semifinals

Four area high school football teams kept their seasons alive with region quarterfinal victories Friday night. And, for the most part, they cruised to victory.

Venice, the No. 1 seed in Class 8A-Region 3, blasted visiting Plant City 55-7 at Powell-Davis Stadium … and it wasn’t that close — Venice led 49-0 at the half.

Palmetto, a district champ and the No. 4 seed in Class 7A-Region 3 rolled past visiting Wiregrass Ranch 41-6 at Harllee Stadium. Riverview and Braden River took to the road and returned home with victories — the Rams stomped Lutz Steinbrenner 31-7 in Class 8A-Region 3 while the Pirates topped Clearwater Countryside in Class 6A-Region 3 30-16.

Results: Scores, updates from high school football playoff games for Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte

Signing day: Area student/athletes make college choices

Not everyone won though. Cardinal Mooney and Charlotte traveled south and both were shut out — the Cougars were blanked by Bishop Verot in fort Myers, 39-0 and the Tarpons were shut down by Naples, 37-0.

Next week five area teams will play in region semifinals including a rematch in 8A-3 between Riverview and Venice. On Oct. 29 Venice handled the Rams, 42-7.


VENICE — Quarterback Ryan Browne threw four touchdowns and Venice High rolled to a victory over visiting Plant City on Friday night in a Class 8A-Region 3 quarterfinal game played at Powell-Davis Stadium.

The win lifts Venice’s record to 10-1 and sets up a region semifinal game at home next Friday night against Riverview High, which defeated Lutz Steinbrenner 31-7 in its quarterfinal game.

After going three-and-out on its first possession of the game, Venice scored on its next seven drives, taking a 49-0 lead into halftime and triggering a running clock in the second half. Running back Jamarice Wilder opened the scoring with the 70-yard TD run. Then, following a Browne 1-yard scoring run, the senior connected with Jayshon Platt on a 23-yard score, making it 21-0 with nine minutes left in the first quarter.

Venice’s lead grew to 28-0 on Wilder’s 22-yard scoring run, and 35-0 when Browne hooked up with Platt on a 29-yard score. Less than two minutes later, Browne connected with Omari Hayes on a 46-yard touchdown. Platt’s third scoring catch of the first half, this one covering 60 yards, closed out the scoring in the first half. Browne didn’t play in the second half, replaced by Michael Valentino, and finished 10-of-11 for 225 yards and the four TDs.

Alvin Johnson’s 10-yard scoring run upped Venice’s lead to 55-0 late in the third quarter. With Venice backups in the game, the Raiders (6-5) finally got on the board with four minutes left in the game on a 7-yard touchdown from quarterback Clint Danzey to Sincere Williams.

Venice takeaways

• He won’t, of course, but Wilder could thank DJ Escort for the opportunity to be one of the stars of Friday’s game. The senior Escort, Venice’s leading rusher with 1,161 yards, was held out of the first quarter by head coach John Peacock for tardiness. In his place, the freshman Wilder, who gained 108 yards on 15 carries during the regular season, rushed for a game-high 158 yards on nine carries. His 70-yard scoring run put Venice up 7-0. Later, his 22-yard run increased the home team’s lead to 28-0. As for Escort, he never got into the game.

• Peacock thinks his team is playing its best football of the season. But he could point to a few things that were less than good. Two touchdowns, one on an interception by Elliot Washington and the other on a Brown-to-Platt touchdown, were called back due to penalties. Both times, however, Venice kept possession and still managed to score touchdowns. Venice’s special teams allowed two long Plant City kickoff returns. And Venice kicker Alex Trejo had one kickoff go out of bounds, giving the Raiders the ball on their 35.

• Venice’s backups allowed the Raiders’ only score, but when its starters were in the game, Venice dominated the Plant City offense. Running back Reggie Bush, the team’s leading rusher, was held to 26 yards on 12 carries. And quarterback Danzey was under duress for much of the game. The junior was sacked three times and finished 12-of-30 for 119 yards, one TD and the Washington pick.

— Doug Fernandes, sports columnist


CLEARWATER — The Braden River High football team received huge plays from its special teams and defense down the stretch to take a victory over Clearwater Countryside in the quarterfinal round of the Class 6A-Region 3 playoffs Friday night on the road.

Aaron Tijerina returned an onside kick 50 yards for a touchdown to make it 30-16 Pirates with 3 minutes, 1 second left in regulation.

After the Cougars (5-6) got the ball back, Braden River put the game away with an interception by Aidan Dengler. 

In extending their winning streak to three games, the Pirates (9-1) will be on the road for the regional semifinals Friday at Tampa Jesuit, a 50-0 winner over Gulfport Boca Ciega.

Braden River takeaways

• There is nothing fancy about the Pirates’ offense these days. Trayvon Pinder (12 carries, 59 yards) and Nehemiah Jenkins (29 carries, 166 yards) run behind a massive offensive line of Ofa Matelau, Albert Dowling, Alex Colas, Mason Johnson and Julius Edwards with an occasional pass from left-hander Bryan Kearse mixed in. “We’re not technically the sexiest offense in the world right now,” Braden River coach Curt Bradley said. “We’re down so many bodies. But we’re healthy up front. I’m really proud of the offensive line, the stable of running backs and BK (Kearse). They continually put us in situations to pound people and pick up first downs.”

• Ranked 77th in state and 15th in 6A by MaxPreps and 55th in the FHSAA RPI rankings, Braden River got key stops from its defense. In addition to Dengler’s pick, the Pirates stopped Countryside four times inside the red zone in the first quarter when they owned a slim 7-0 lead. Three of the plays were losses — sacks by Evan Dangler and Zamarion Mays and a combined tackle for a loss by Andrew Nordland and Mays. The Braden River defense also limited the Cougars to a field goal that made cut its deficit to 17-9 late in the third quarter. “The defense got timely stops,” Bradley said. “I was a little disappointed in the defense at times. But at the end of the day, a win is a win in the playoffs, and you’ll take every single one you can get. Survive and advance is the name of the game. ”

• Craivontae Koonce opened the scoring with a 17-yard pass from Kearse on the Pirates’ first drive. It was one of two passes Kearse completed and he caught both. Koonse, who does not have a lot of experience in the backfield, made his impression at running back with Pinder and Jenkins on the sidelines. Koonse broke free for a 45-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter to up Braden River’s lead to 24-9. It was his first carry of the game and fourth of the season. 

• As soon as the Cougars made it a one-score game at 24-16, the Pirates sprung back into action. Tijerina took the short kick and bolted straight ahead untouched for a kickoff return touchdown. “Just how you draw it up on the hands team,” Bradley said, jokingly. “In those situations, you’re either aggressive or you’re passive. He was aggressive and we’ll take aggression. Credit to Aaron for being aggressive and going to get it.”

• The road does not get any easier for the Pirates, who travel to Tampa for a meeting with top-seed Jesuit (11-0) on Friday. The Tigers have outscored their opposition 405-76 this season with six shutouts, including five straight. Jesuit has not allowed a point since Oct. 8. “We’ve seen film,” Bradley said. “We played CCC (Clearwater Central Catholic) right after they played them. A great football team. We know they’ve got a lot of talent there. Whoever is available for us we’re going to get them ready to play and go lay it on the line.”

— Dennis Maffezzoli, deputy sports editor


PALMETTO — Cleve Benson scampered for three touchdowns as Palmetto High blasted Wiregrass Ranch of Wesley Chapel on Friday night in a Class 7A-Region 3 quarterfinal game at Harllee Stadium.

The Tigers (5-5) never trailed after freshman quarterback Zander Smith heaved a 96-yard scoring pass to Duke Timmons, Palmetto’s top receiver during the regular season, for a 7-0 lead with 6:36 remaining in the first quarter.

“Duke Timmons has been a playmaker for us all year,” Palmetto coach Dave Marino said. “He’s a very coachable guy and he delivered again tonight. We expect that and he expects that of himself.”

Palmetto erupted for four more touchdowns in the second quarter to put the game out of reach. Benson scored on runs of six and eight yards and Smith scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak. Sheldrick Simpson also returned an interception 23 yards for a score.

Benson scored on a 1-yard plunge early in the fourth quarter.

The lone score for the Bulls (5-5) came on an 8-yard scoring pass from quarterback Rocco Becht to Rodgers. Becht is the son of former Tampa Bay Bucs tight end Anthony Becht.

Palmetto takeaways

• Palmetto’s defense stood firm on its own turf. The Tigers picked off three of Becht’s passes, including the one Simpson returned for a TD. Becht was also sacked twice by Mykell Gipson and Drew Rumph. Other Palmetto defenders who spent much of the night in the Bulls’ backfield included Cedric Augustine, Jamil Williams and Rok Lodge. “We knew defense was our strength coming into the season,” Marino said. “Those kids did a heck of a job. Our defense did a good job of containing them.”

• Smith completed 8 of 18 passes for 213 yards. In addition to his long TD pass, He also threw three interceptions. “Zander made some nice throws,” Marino said. “He’s got to clean up a few things. He’s still making some mistakes that are going to be costly in tighter games. He’ll continue to improve. Again, he’s a freshman. It’s part of the growing pains. The positives far outweigh the negatives with him.”

• The Tigers will face a stern road test in their region semifinal at Tampa Bay Tech (11-0). “We like our chances,” Marino said. “We feel like Sarasota and Manatee County football prepares us to play teams from other areas.”

— Jim Brockman, correspondent


LUTZ — The Riverview Rams rode the legs of senior running back Jay’den Birch to road victory over host Lutz Steinbrenner High in a Class 8A-Region 3 quarterfinal game on Friday night.

Birch ran for three rushing touchdowns, including two scores in the first half, as the Rams (9-2) jumped out to an early 14-0 second-quarter lead and never looked back. 

“It feels great to get this win, this is what we’ve been working for the whole season,” Birch said. 

Riverview led 14-7 midway through the third quarter when Will Carter Jr. connected with sophomore wideout Charles Lester III for a 56-yard catch-and-run swing pass for a touchdown which gave the Rams a commanding 21-7 lead. Lester also had an interception on defense.

Senior Stone Springman added a 28-yard field goal with 11:41 left in the fourth quarter to give the Rams a 24-7 lead, and senior safety Charlie Cooper clinched the victory by picking off Steinbrenner quarterback Ty Robinson in the red zone and running it back 90 yards down to the Warriors’ 1-yard line. One play later, Birch punched in his third rushing score from one yard out to make it 31-7 with less than two minutes remaining.

Birch finished with 18 carries for 88 yards on the ground while fellow tailback and sophomore Ahmad Hunter had 128 rushing yards, including multiple first down runs of 20-plus yards in the fourth quarter.

“I was really proud of the way we played overall and defensively our kids made some big plays,” said Riverview coach Joshua Smithers. “In the first half we made a couple little tweaks up front blocking-wise and you saw what they (Birch and Hunter) were able to do controlling the clock and controlling the ball in the second half. Those guys played strong the entire game.”

The Rams now visit Venice, a 55-7 winner over Plant City, next Friday in a 8A-3 region semifinal game.

“Now it’s time to get our payback, this is just the first part of it,” Birch said. “We want this game badly, and in order to be ready we need to stay focused in practice and locked in.”

Riverview takeaways

• Friday’s victory marked Birch’s second game of the season with three rushing touchdowns. He accomplished the same feat in the Rams’ 35-0 shutout victory over Sarasota on Oct. 1.

• Brothers and Riverview seniors Brady Bloom and Bo Bloom were vital cogs on the defensive side of the ball for the Rams all night. Brady’s red zone sack on fourth down proved to be the end of Steinbrenner’s final comeback attempt late in the fourth quarter.

• Lester III, a wide receiver who also plays defensive back, recorded a pivotal interception in the first half to give the ball back to Riverview and ignite a 19-play, 91-yard clock-draining drive that resulted in the Rams’ second touchdown of the game. 

— Chis Dell, correspondent


FORT MYERS — Southwest Florida’s biggest private school rivalry still belongs to the Bishop Verot Vikings.

Bishop Verot played arguably its best game of the season, and the Vikings advanced to the Class 3A-Region 3 region semifinals with a trouncing of the visiting Cardinal Mooney Cougars. Verot has now won four straight games in the series by an average of 27.5 points.

The Vikings held the Cougars to just 122 yards of offense.

Mooney takeaways

• Cardinal Mooney had two major missed opportunities before the game got out of hand. The Cougars drove to the Verot 26-yard line on the opening drive, but had a 42-yard field goal blocked. Mooney then drove its first possession of the second half inside the Verot 10, but fumbled, and the Vikings responded with a 94-yard scoring drive to essentially bury the Cougars.

• Mooney leading receiver Ryan Matulovich, who had 41 catches for 559 yards and eight touchdowns entering Friday night, was completely neutralized. With Miami commit Chris Graves often shadowing the freshman, Matulovich did not have any receptions, and carried the ball just once for two yards.

• The Cougars finish the season with a 7-4 record, including a win over playoff winner Seffner Christian. All four of Mooney’s losses — First Baptist, Carrollwood Day and twice to Bishop Verot — came to teams who will be playing next Friday night. 


NAPLES — The Golden Eagles took advantage of home field and blanked the Tarpons in the first round of the Class 6A-Region 4 playoffs.

Naples (10-0) got started early, posting 23 points in the first quarter. The Tarpons converted a fake punt on the opening drive of the game, and were stuffed on a fourth-down attempt rather than attempting a 36-yard field goal to open the scoring.

“Like I just told these guys, the routine gets messed up on the bye week,” Naples coach Rick Martin said. “You’re not banging as much, you’re not doing what you normally do. So for our guys to be that veteran team, and come out and handle business was big for us.”

Charlotte takeaways

• Running back Troi McClary could not do anything on the ground, as he rushed 12 times for 14 yards with a lost fumble in the second half. Quarterback Keon Jones was forced out of the pocket on numerous occasions but completed 5-of-17 passes for 100 yards and an interception..

• Multiple times after Charlotte converted a first down, the snaps to Jones were not clean, with multiple snaps going to his left, thus putting Charlotte behind the sticks in early-down situations. Jones had -17 yards rushing, but most of that was not his fault.

• With Friday night’s loss, the Tarpons close out the year 5-5. That is the first time Charlotte has not finished with a winning record since 2007, when the team finished 4-6.

— Alex Martin