BRADENTON – The shorthanded Sarasota High football team walked into a hallowed ground, grabbed a lead and never looked back in recording its first playoff victory in 18 years.
The Sailors took advantage of Manatee High miscues early and never looked back in a 30-20 decision over the Hurricanes in a Class 4 Suburban-Region 4 game at Joe Kinnan Field at Hawkins Stadium.
Sarasota’s reward is a home game Friday against rival Riverview High, which went on the road and knocked off Golden Gate in Naples.
Missing “a good amount” of players because of suspensions due to an incident at the beginning of the week, according to Sailors coach Brody Wiseman, sixth-seeded Sarasota recorded its first playoff victory since 2004 when it defeated Gibbs, 61-34. The next week, the Sailors lost to Riverview 23-0 in the regional final.
Because of the circumstances, Wiseman was forced to turn to a senior Reese Cogswell, who has been with the program for four years but has not received much playing time. Friday, Cogswell started at cornerback and played against some of the top athletes in the area.
“What’s great about this for me is you have a kid like Reese Cogswell,” Wiseman said. “Now, it’s a playoff game, probably the biggest game in the program’s history in recent times, and we ask him to start at corner. He holds it down for us. A resilient group. I trust every kid I have on my roster.”
Wiseman needed to trust a number of players who had not seen the field much.
Take junior Michael Bendever. A baseball player following in the footsteps of Lance Trippel, a catcher and quarterback. Bendever had been splitting time in practice with sophomore Alexander Diaz, who had taken most of the snaps this season.
All Bendever did was come in and throw a pair of touchdown passes and run the offense like he had been a three-year starter.
“I didn’t feel like he was necessarily all the way ready,” Wiseman said. “He’s been getting a whole lot better. I felt going into a playoff game he gave our offense something different. He played a tremendous game tonight. I’m really excited about that.”
Bendever and the Sarasota offense had the fortune of having a lead before it took a snap.
On the Hurricanes’ first possession, an errant snap on a punt was kicked out of the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 Sailors’ lead with 3 minutes, 51 seconds gone.
“It definitely settled us down,” Wiseman said of the early advantage. “It helped us survive while some kids were suspended and out for the game. When you have a young quarterback making his first start and you go up 2-0 immediately and get plus field position and go down and score, it allow a kid to kind of ease into the game a little bit. And definitely felt like it helped his confidence.”
On the ensuing kickoff, Sarasota (5-4) took over at the Manatee 45-yard line. Bendever engineered a 10-play drive by hitting his first three passes to three different receivers before Takurian Smith crashed into the end zone from a yard out on fourth down.
The Sailors added to their lead with more fourth-down success. From the Hurricanes’ 7, Bendever found Tyler Pack in the back corner of the end zone and Sarasota’s lead swelled to 16-0.
A 42-yard kickoff return by Bon Bean gave Manatee (6-4) good field position, and the Hurricanes struck before the end of the first half. Johnny Squitieri connected on three passes before going over from two yards out to slice the deficit to 16-6 at halftime.
Even when third-seeded Manatee got within 16-13 on another short run by Squitieri and again after Cory Sanders’ scoring run, Sarasota had answers.
A 40-yard pass from Bendever to Nathan Wells set up Joe Ziegler on a 1-yard touchdown run. Bendever’s 28-yard scoring pass to Jackson Mullet countered the Hurricanes’ second score and made it 30-20 with 1:29 left in the third quarter.
Manatee had three possessions in the scoreless final quarter, the latter with 8 seconds left.
“We know we can’t make mistakes in a playoff game. There are no do-overs in the playoffs,” Hurricanes coach Jacquez Green said. “You make mistakes in the playoffs and dig yourself a hole, you’re not going to come back, especially a team that runs the ball.”
Most of the game, Sarasota used seven offensive linemen Dwayne Miller, Javier Pastor, Daunte Frazier, Maddox Marchbank, Damien Delgrosso, Iovan Arrega and Mathew Heisler to provide the running lanes for Jaden Judge and Smith and the protection for Bendever, who went 9-for-16 for 180 yards.
“We really pride ourselves on what we do in the weight room,” said Wiseman, crediting former Manatee player and coach Thor Miller, now the Sailors’ strength coach and offensive line coach. “He does a tremendous job with our guys. We felt like all year we want to hang our hat on them. We get heavy and that’s how we play ball.”
Now, the Sailors will go up against seventh-seeded Riverview, which won the regular-season meeting, 14-0, Oct. 1 at Sarasota’s field.
“It’s been a weird year,” Wiseman said. “But you’re 1-0 in the playoffs and you get to host a regional semifinal. I’m excited for our kids. They got us the first time. I felt like we played a really good game, a game our kids were capable of winning, and that didn’t happen unfortunately. My kids are excited to get another opportunity, another crack at it. It’ll be exciting.”
And Wiseman is expected to have his full contingent of players, as the suspensions were for one game.
Venice 87, Riverdale 20
VENICE – Take a determined Venice High team, take a Riverdale team missing 16 players due to the flu, and the result was the most points scored in the history of Venice football.
Elliot Washington Jr. returned three kickoffs for touchdowns as No. 1 seed Venice advanced to the regional semifinals with an 87-20 victory over the Raiders on Friday night before a good crowd at Powell-Davis Stadium.
With the win, Venice now will host Lehigh, a 31-24 winner over Palmetto.
Washington Jr., headed to Penn State, returned kickoffs of 99, 99 yards and 90 yards as Venice assumed a 28-0 lead after the first quarter and 35-3 at halftime. A 19-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brooks Bentley to Ryan Matulevich on Venice’s first drive of the third quarter made it 42-3 and triggered a running clock for the rest of the game.
But after the game, Riverdale head coach Frank Hepler and Venice head coach John Peacock had words on the field. Hepler didn’t like Peacock electing to go for a couple 2-point conversions with the game out of reach. Peacock told Hepler he had removed all his first stringers and didn’t have a back-up kicking unit.
“We got a flu bug going around and we got two Division I players hurt,” Hepler said. “They’re a better team right now, but we’ll keep working. I thought they could have done something else. I’ve been where he’s (Peacock) been. He’s got to get some class, that’s all. It’ll come back to haunt him.”
“What do you want me to do?” Peacock said afterward. “I don’t have a second extra-point team.”
Venice (6-3) got contributions from the usual suspects. Besides Washington Jr.’s three scores, Bentley threw three touchdown passes, two to wide receiver Kenyon Sears, both covering 10 yards, and his 19-yarder to Matulevich. Bentley finished 14-of-19 for 179 yards and the three TDs. He was replaced later by back-up Anthony Miller.
Venice also got two touchdowns from running back Alvin Johnson of 26 and 20 yards. He finished with 108 yards on six carries. His backfield mate, Jamarice Wilder, scored on runs of 3 and 8 yards. He finished with 69 yards on six carries.
Damon Wilson got it started for Venice, returning a first-quarter Riverdale (4-4) fumble 20 yards for the score and 7-0 Venice lead with the PAT by Kirill Kotov. Soon, Bentley’s 10-yard to Sears made it 14-0, and the rout was on.
Riverdale could do little against the Venice defense. With leading rusher Terry Jackson sidelined, Cole Hayes was the Raiders’ leading rusher with 31 yards on 11 carries. He also caught a 31-yard TD pass from quarterback Tyler Abrams, who finished 6-of-18 for 135 yards, 80 coming on a screen pass TD to AJ Baxter, which made it 79-20.
Down 28-0, the Raiders got on the board in the second period on a 45-yard field goal by Dayllon DePaula. He later added 32-yarder. And with Venice’s second- and third-stringers on the field, Riverdale got the Baxter TD late to account for the final score.
“Obviously, they were a little overmatched and our kids were focused,” Peacock said. “We had a good week of practice and they played fast.”
– Doug Fernandes, columnist
Port Charlotte 40, Fort Myers 14
PORT CHARLOTTE – Nothing was going to stop Port Charlotte High from hosting Friday’s Region 3S-4 quarterfinal playoff game against Fort Myers High.
Nothing was going to stop the Pirates from defeating Fort Myers, either.
From Ike Perry’s first kickoff return to reserve running back Carlos Serrano’s game-ending carry for a first down, Port Charlotte manhandled the visiting Green Wave.
“This is what it’s all about,” said a smiling Jordan Ingman following the game.
The Port Charlotte head coach had spent Thursday in the rain with an army of workers testing the portable light stanchions brought in to replace two towers that had been condemned following Hurricane Ian.
“The kids created a memory tonight that will last a lifetime,” Ingman said. “That’s why high school football is fun and I think our community enjoyed tonight. I hope they did.”
It was a cathartic win for a team that had not played a home game since Sept. 2. The season will continue Friday at Naples, the region’s No. 1 seed.
Fort Myers scored on the game’s opening possession, amazing 75 yards on the way to a 7-0 lead. Perry’s purposeful running on the ensuing kickoff set a hard-hitting tone that junior running back Edd Guerrier picked up on as he opened Port Charlotte’s six-play, 63-yard response with some helmet-smacking of his own.
Bryce Eaton ended that drive with a 44-yard pass down the Port Charlotte sideline to a wide-open Justice Becerill to knot the score at 7-7.
The game then settled into a series of Fort Myers failures and Port Charlotte touchdowns as the Pirates scored on their first five possessions for a 33-7 halftime lead.
Guerrier put the Pirates ahead for good on the team’s second drive, gathering in a 3rd-and-11 pass from Eaton and blazing down the Port Charlotte sideline for an 81-yard score.
Meanwhile, the Port Charlotte defense hounded Green Wave quarterback Chris McFoley throughout the night, forcing the junior into rushed throws, often on the run.
“Our kids play hard for each other,” Ingman said. “Love’s a big motivator and our kids genuinely care for each other. This year has been a phenomenal year from a chemistry standpoint. It’s just a bunch of really good kids who play hard for each other.”
In the post-game gathering, Ingman told his players a big challenge awaits next week at Naples in the Region 3S-4 semifinals. But for just this one night, he wanted them to head to the locker room, crank up the music and celebrate.
“It was a great time,” senior offensive lineman Vincent Chavez said. “Home field. It was a great time. I’m happy we got to have a Senior Night and I’m just very thankful for my team, thankful for everybody. It’s great to have one last home game for my senior year.”
Guerrier said in his mind, there was only one way this game could end.
“Playoff mode, you know?” he said. “It felt good finally being home. We knew we had to perform for the city because the city worked so hard to get us on the field. I heard there were like, over 60 people that helped us put the lights up, so, yeah, we had to perform for them.”
By halftime, Guerrier had 196 total yards of offense and two touchdowns. Port Charlotte had 358 total yards to Fort Myers’ 120 (75 of which came on the game’s first series). Port Charlotte got a number of backups in the game throughout the second half.
Lehigh 31, Palmetto 24
PALMETTO – Lehigh outlasted host Palmetto 31-24 in the opening round of the Class 4S-Region 4 playoffs at Harllee Stadium.
Five-star recruit and University of Alabama commit Richard Young ran for a game-high 218 yards on 15 carries to lead the way for the visiting Lightning (5-3), who have now four straight games and haven’t lost since Sept. 16 after starting the regular season 1-3.
Young, a senior, finished with 136 rushing yards in the second half and ended the game with five runs of 10-plus yards, including a long gain of 57 yards on his final carry of the contest.
Coming into Friday night’s playoff game, Palmetto hadn’t lost a postseason home game since 2011, and the Tigers also had come into the game on a four-game winning streak, having not lost a game since Sept. 23 against Clearwater Academy International.
“There’s a lot disappointment for the seniors tonight, it was a great senior class in terms of leadership, and their fight and their performance all year,” said Palmetto coach Dave Marino. “But it’s also excitement for all these underclassmen, and for the potential we have. There are a lot of kids coming back from this team, and the future is bright here. These underclassmen just improved every day and with every play, and I’m excited for what’s to come next year.”
The Tigers nearly forced overtime late, despite trailing 31-17 with just more than 6 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, when Kyrie Marshall scored on a 51-yard catch-and-run to cut the deficit to seven points. Palmetto junior Izaiah Jackson then recovered a blocked field goal attempt on the Lightning’s ensuing drive to give the Tigers the ball with 1:03 left.
Palmetto drove to inside the Lehigh 10-yard line, highlighted by a 50-yard catch-and-run play by junior wideout Zymarrion Lang. The Tigers spiked the ball with less than 50 seconds remaining to stop the clock, but they were unable to complete a pass on three drop-back attempts to close the game and turned the ball over on downs.
“It’s a credit to these kids and the culture we’ve built here, that we always fight for 48 minutes, until that last second ticks off,” Marino said. “We know and believe in our hearts that we have a chance to win, no matter what the situation presents, and the kids gave themselves a chance to win tonight, but we just came up a little short at the end. I couldn’t be more proud of this group.”
Sophomore quarterback Zander Smith finished with 251 passing yards to lead the Palmetto offense. Marshall chipped in with 109 all-purpose yards. Lang led all wideouts with 137 receiving yards on five catches. Fellow junior Malique Callaway tallied six catches to go along with his 61 receiving yards. Senior Nate Dawes had an interception for Palmetto, which tied the game twice but never led throughout the contest.
“Tonight was just a team effort,” said Lehigh coach James Chaney .”You can’t win ball games like this when you have a bunch of individuals, and while we didn’t start off that way this season, finally this year we came together as brothers and as a team and as a family, and that’s so much more important than talent. Our guys bent a little bit tonight, but they didn’t break.
“We had a rough start to the season but really came together as a team tonight. We knew there was going to be adversity tonight, and (Palmetto) is a group of fighters, I love that program, love their spirit. This is the playoffs, this is when guys like Young and our other guys make plays.”
Mallary finished with three touchdowns for Lehigh, two passing scores, and a combined 173 yards. Lehigh will play Friday on the road at Venice in the second round of the playoffs. Venice routed Riverdale 87-20.
Lehigh finished with 297 rushing yards as a team on the night.
“These guys are playing for each other, they love each other, and that’s the most important thing. That’s certainly the most important lesson I’ve learned as a coach as well,” Chaney said.
Young, who came into Friday’s game with just more than 800 rushing yards, surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark while still making key plays for the Lightning as an outside linebacker on defense. He also scored on a 30-yard touchdown early in the game.
“He (Young) put us on his back and even played defense at a high level,” Chaney said. “He’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime type of kids that you get, and I’m awfully proud of him. He has not let down this season, and he came to play tonight, just like he comes to play every week.
“He’s going to be a special player at the next level.”
– Chris Dell, correspondent
Riverview 29, Gulf Coast 15
NAPLES – Last week, the Riverview football team didn’t know if it would be playing a first-round playoff game.
After getting some key help last Friday with certain teams that needed to win, the Rams made it in as the No. 7 seed. Friday night, they took advantage of their presence in the postseason.
The Rams scored a huge win over the Sharks. With the win, Riverview will advance to the regional semifinals against Sarasota, which also scored an upset against Manatee.
“We felt like we were a much better team than 3-6,” Riverview coach Josh Smithers said. “We went through a gauntlet the last two weeks, playing four games in 12 days. Our kids were just exhausted and spent at the end of that. We thought we were kind of dead in the water at this time last week. But a couple of teams that we needed to win, won. It put us in the playoffs, and when you get here, everyone’s 0-0.”
DJ Johnson had an impressive night on the ground, rushing for 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns. That is the largest rushing total the Sharks have allowed this year. It’s also the first 100-yard rusher Gulf Coast has allowed all season.
Riverview’s defense won the line of scrimmage. In the first half, the defense held Gulf Coast to 92 yards on 28 plays (3.29 yards per play). On the ground, Gulf Coast had 14 rushes for 21 yards before finishing with 29 attempts for 52 yards.
“They’re very sound,” Gulf Coast coach Todd Nichols said. “A year ago, we got put in that district, so we knew the style of football that Sarasota teams play. We knew what we kinda had to play with our whole offseason. Everything we’ve done has been geared towards that part of the state. If we really want to compete in 4S, we have to go down that path. It’s physical football, it’s big bodies, and they’re well coached.”
The Rams opened the scoring in the second quarter, as Johnson gashed the Gulf Coast defense for a 43-yard score. From there, Holy Cross commit Luke Petitta hauled in two big passes, one of which was a touchdown from 49 yards out. Riverview had 389 yards total offense, compared to Gulf Coast’s 222, 124 of which came in the second half.
Gulf Coast (8-3) moves to 0-9 all-time in playoff games but did have a successful season. The team won their second district title, captured their first 8-win season in program history, and won their rivalry game over Barron Collier, giving the 2023 class a 3-1 record against the Cougars.
“It’s not gonna define us,” Nichols said. “These kids did so much, of getting a new coach their freshman year, and three weeks later, we’re out of school. Eight wins is a new school record. They got a second district trophy. We fell short on trying to get our first playoff win, but they’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. They reset a few things around here, and Shark football has a different standard.”
— Alex Martin
Naples 42, Braden River 6
NAPLES – The great running game that the Naples High School football team established in its final regular season game two weeks ago continued in the postseason Friday night.
The Golden Eagles picked up 410 yards on the ground in their District 3S-Region 4 quarterfinal on the way to a convincing victory over Braden River at Staver Field as the state football playoffs kicked off around Florida.
In the last two games, the Golden Eagles (8-2) have amassed 759 yards rushing.
Kendrick Raphael gained 216 yards on the ground. Isaiah Augustave also rushed for 123 yards.
The Eagles will now meet Port Charlotte on Friday in the region semifinals.
Naples coach Rick Martin expects the semifinals to be closer than the quarter. This one against the Pirates was in a running clock for the entire second half of play.
Despite a big win, Martin wasn’t completely pleased with everything from the top-seeded Golden Eagles, who won for the seventh time in the last eight games.
“We had too many penalties and made way too many mistakes,” Martin said. “We need to get a lot better at the little things. I was obviously proud of our effort overall and getting that first-round victory. I don’t take anything for granted. If we want to do more, we’ve got to clean some stuff up.”
It was almost the Golden Eagles’ third shutout of the season but then the Pirates broke through for a touchdown late. So Naples settled for holding an opponent to single digits in points for the sixth time.
“We harp on ‘no mistakes,’” Martin said. “Mistakes can be turnovers or penalties, and we had a lot of them tonight. We also had some mistakes in personnel. Port Charlotte has a winning program, and we’ve got to be at our best next week in order to beat them.”
Braden River, which finished the season at .500 (5-5), was led offensively by quarterback Lucas Despot, who passed for 112 yards. He filled in for injured starter Nick Trier.
“We didn’t get off to a good start, and it obviously snowballed from there,” said Braden River coach Curt Bradley. “We knew we had to slow down their running game, but we weren’t able to do that, and we fell behind 14-0 really quick. We just couldn’t get in front in this game. We had some ups-and-downs this year. We played a lot of sophomores against a really tough schedule. It was an average season, to be honest.”
The Golden Eagles put it away immediately with three scores in the first quarter. Augustave scored a touchdown and Raphael scored twice and it was 21-0 after one quarter. Naples had scored on each possession in the first.
The Pirates moved the ball decently only once in the first half, driving to the Golden Eagle 43-yard line in the second. But then Jonas Duclona picked off Despot to end the drive early in the second.
Naples led 35-0 at halftime. Kendrick already had 216 yards rushing by then and didn’t gain any in the second half while letting subs play.
The Pirates’ lone highlight came on a late touchdown by Craivontae Koonce. It was set up by Yashua Edwards’ 60-yard reception from Despot.
– Thomas Corwin
Frostproof 34, Booker 31
FROSTPROOF — It looked as if Class 2S No. 2 seed Frostproof would smooth sail in the second half vs. No. 7 seed Booker and advance past the regional quarterfinal for the third straight year.
But the Tornadoes made the game interesting by coming all the way back at Faris Brannen Stadium on a perfect night for football following a tropical storm.
After a defensive stand that made Frostproof punt, Booker got the ball on their own 20 with a 1:30 to go in the fourth quarter. Booker’s traveling fans erupted with a raucous cheer as Tornadoes trotted on the field to potentially take the lead. But senior quarterback Will Carter Jr. threw three straight incomplete passes, all deep attempts.
On the third deep attempt, officials called an ineligible man down the field on the Tornadoes and a pass interference on the Bulldogs, which offset the two calls. Carter was sacked on third down and then junior defensive tackle Jayvyn McFadden sacked Carter on a fourth-and-15 play, which turned the ball over on downs.
With no timeouts left on the Sarasota side, Frostproof senior quarterback Nathan Jenkins took a knee in victory formation to end the game. It’s the first time since the 1990s Frostproof achieved playoff wins three straight years.
“We’re proud of that,” Frostproof head coach Rod McDowell said. “It’s not about me. It’s really about the kids. They played together. They stayed together. And you know what, they are a special group. And, whether we play one more game or four more games, I’m honored to be their coach.”
First half dominance leads to seesaw battle in second half
Frostproof’s Jenkins was dominating the game through the pass and the air: Jenkins threw a 37-yard rope to Xavier Gay that led to junior running back Donavan Solomon punching in a 2-yard touchdown with 3:03 left in the second, and Jenkins also scored two quarterback sneak touchdowns to put the Bulldogs up 21-9.
Booker received the ball first in the second half, but McFadden intercepted Carter, who’s ball was tipped.
With the ball on the Frostproof 20, the game is over.
Frostproof fumbled and Booker recovered the ball. Carter would culminate an 8-play, 81-yard drive with an 11-yard slant pass touchdown to Booker with 5:49 to go in the third to put the score at 21-17 Frostproof.
Frostproof seizes control of game
In response to Booker trying to make it a game, Frostproof went on a long drive highlighted by Jenkins and junior running back Donavan Solomon – the two Frostproof catalysts. Solomon picked up five yards on a fourth-and-3 that moved the chains. And Jenkins eventually ran for a 26-yard touchdown to make the score 27-17 Frostproof with 11:49 to go in the fourth.
Booker would start on their own 43 with 11:42 to go in the fourth. On the first play of the Booker drive, Frostproof senior defensive end AJ Cobb picked up a fumble and ran it in for a 43-yard touchdown with 11:24 left in the fourth to eventually up the score to 34-17.
Booker makes game interesting
The Tornadoes put that previous offensive mishap behind them by Carter hitting Booker on a touch pass off a wheel route that would end up being an 80-yard touchdown with 11:09 to go I the fourth nudging closer by a score 34-24.
Booker’s defensive line came to play near the end of the game, forcing Frostproof into a punt.
Two offensive possessions later, Carter connected on a 34-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Christian Robinson, who ran a fade route to the back left of the end zone. Robinson’s catch was full-extension and put the score at 34-31.
First-year head coach Scottie Littles said he is proud of his group that turned a program that went 2-32 the last few years into a 6-4, 2022 first-time playoff team.
“The kids just fought,” Littles said. “At the end of the day, (I’m) just proud of our seniors. Proud of what they build here. We’ll take this one on the chin. We’ll learn from it. But our foundation is build now. We’ll find a way to get over this one and get ready for next year.
“…Booker is very rich tradition school. It might now seem like that in the past three or four years, but Booker is back.”
Frostproof (9-2) will take on No. 6 seed DeSoto County (7-3) 7 p.m. Friday at home in the regional semifinals.
Sarasota Christian 47 Lakeside Christian 26
Game at: Sarasota Christian
Top players: SC, Ben Milliken 12-for-27, 236yards, 6TDs, Justin Brock 3 carries, 81 yards, TD; 2 catches, 50 yards, TD, Colton Loftus 3 catches, 92 yards, TD, Daniel Jacinto 19 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFLs, Austin Kerle 16 tackles, TFL
Of note: Ben Milliken went over 3000 yards passing on the season.
Records: SCS 7-4 Lakeside 8-3
Next: Sarasota Christian will take on Masters Academy Vero Beach, 2 p.m., Nov. 19 in Lakeland
Dennis Maffezzoli is the deputy sports editor for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and chief reporter for Sarasota Herald-Tribune and HTpreps covering Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties. Support local journalism by subscribing.
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This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Regional semifinals pit Riverview at Sarasota and Lehigh at Venice