Marino-led Palmetto is peaking at the right time
The Palmetto High football team walked onto the home field of undefeated Pinellas Park on Friday night and didn’t flinch.
The seventh-seeded Tigers jumped to a big early lead and kept their foot on the gas, cruising to a 38-21 win over the No. 2 Patriots in a Class 7A-Region 3 quarterfinal.
It’s the second consecutive season Palmetto traveled to Pinellas County and beat the Patriots in the first round of the playoffs.
Palmetto (8-3) will continue its playoff run next week with a trip to sixth-seeded Valrico Bloomingdale, a 45-8 winner over Fort Myers Riverdale.
Corrian Brown’s 9-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter made the score 38-7 against a Pinellas Park team that averaged 47 points a game during the regular season.
The Patriots picked up two touchdowns in the final 2:09 with the help of a 63-yard kickoff return and a Palmetto fumble.
“It was all about the defense,” Palmetto head coach Dave Marino said. “Hats off the them. That’s a hell of an offense we faced tonight. We missed a couple of offensive opportunities but we got it done.”
Johnny Jones scored the first touchdown on a short run, and quarterback Anthony Marino threw a pair of scoring passes, an 85-yard bomb to LaJohntay Wester and a 22-yard strike to Eddrayian Butler.
Marino also scored on a quarterback sneak, and Rafael Gon-
at the 5:41 mark of the second quarter.
Both fumbles were caused by Plant City defenders punching at the ball, part of the Raiders’ focus on stopping — or at least slowing — him.
With the victory, Braden River (9-2) advances to face defending Class 7A state champion Venice in the second round for the third consecutive season.
The Pirates lost those playoff encounters and, with McDaniel in the lineup, lost 24-21 to the Indians in late September.
Braden River’s only other loss came to Jacksonville Trinity Christian, the top-ranked Class 5A team in the state and a top-50 program in the nation.
The victory also marked the second time in four seasons Braden River ended Plant City’s season: Braden River earned a 17-7 victory in the regional final round of the 2015 season.
The Pirates have won at least one postseason game in five consecutive seasons.
Though the teams met in an earlier round this time, this edition of the Pirates’ defense was just as stingy. The Pirates limited the Raiders (9-2) to 9 points through 44 minutes and their standout quarterback, Braxton Plunk to a 19 of 45 performance for 283 yards.
They did it with tight coverage on Plant City’s receivers, aided by the defensive backs’ consistent ability to time their contact with receivers.
Braden River was also able to get pressure on Plunk from the interior on obvious passing downs. Plunk entered the game having thrown for 2,326 yards, 24 touchdowns and four interceptions.
The Pirates’ Mark Davis gave Plunk his fifth interception, picking off an overthrown pass at the goal line with 1:37 left in the first half to prevent Plant City from cutting into the Pirates’ 14-3 lead before the break.
Even with Plunk, the Plant City offense, on paper, was less dynamic when compared to Braden River, which averaged more than 45 points in their eight wins and more than 40 overall.