As the Venice football team huddled together one last time on the field of Brian Piccolo Memorial Stadium at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Indians coach John Peacock had some parting words for his team.
“Tonight does not define us,” Peacock said to the players after the 38-18 season-ending loss to the Raiders on Friday night.
“You guys are unbelievable players and unbelievable people, and we’re gonna continue that.”
Though the Indians won’t be forgetting Friday night’s loss to the Raiders anytime soon, there’s much more to remember about the 2018 season than how it ended…
Best moments of the season
Carson Sullivan’s game-winning sack against Braden River
Everyone who was at Powell-Davis Stadium on the night of Sept. 28 knew that in all likelihood, the winner between Braden River vs. Venice would emerge as the District 7A-11 champion.
So, with Venice leading, 24-21, and the Pirates facing a 4th down near midfield with time ticking down, Indians defensive lineman Carson Sullivan came up with one of the biggest plays of the year for his team.
Sullivan blew past the edge of the Pirates offensive line to take down quarterback Bryan Gagg from his blindside, forcing a turnover on downs and giving his team the edge in the race for the district crown.
Homecoming night blowout win
One of the factors that has made Venice football so successful over the years has been the support of the local community.
Venice fans and former Indians greats, including Venice legend and Chicago Bears tight end Trey Burton, came out in full force on Oct. 5 to watch their team dismantle Champagnat Catholic, 58-6.
Along with the big offensive night (4 touchdowns for backup quarterback Nico DallaCosta), the defense allowed just 69 yards for the entire first half in a dominant performance for the Indians.
Winning a third straight regional title
Though the Indians defeated Bloomingdale, 57-32, on Nov. 23 for the 7A-3 regional title, the victory wasn’t by any means a guarantee.
The Bloomingdale Bulls pulled every trick out of the bag, even going as far as to start a quarterback who was wearing a walking boot just minutes before the game began.
Venice found itself down 32-29 at halftime and in need of a defensive stand.
Not only did the Indians come up with a four-and-out on the first Bulls’ drive, but they went on to shut out the Bulls for the rest of the game to earn a well-deserved celebration.
Suffocating front seven
Perhaps the best part of Venice’s team in 2018 was the effort of its defensive front seven.
Along with some eye-popping stats, like defensive lineman Carson Sullivan setting the Venice High sack record with 14.5, or linebacker Nick Giacolone recording 168 total tackles, the results also showed on the scoreboard as well.
The Venice defense held opponents to under 14 points in seven out of 14 games this season, and came up when it mattered most, shutting down Bloomingdale in the second half to claim the regional championship.
Emergence of Weston Wolff
Coming into the 2018 season, it was unclear as to who would replace the former record-breaking Indians receiver, Jaivon Heiligh.
Heiligh, who caught 131 passes for 2,159 yards and 32 touchdowns on the way to the 7A state championship, was the heart and soul of the Venice receiving corps in 2017.
This season, the plan was to spread the ball out more — accommodating the talents of pocket passer Hayden Wolff and the depth of receivers.
However, it quickly became apparent that sophomore Weston Wolff — 6-foot-5, 190 pounds — would be the go-to option for Venice. He finished the season with 70 catches for 796 yards and 3 touchdowns.
In the 7A state semifinals against St. Thomas Aquinas, which has some of the best defensive players in the country, Wolff hauled in 8 catches for 115 yards and drew several penalties.
Brandon Gregory’s special season
Originally, the Venice coaching staff wasn’t sure what to do with Brandon Gregory.
They tried him on defense, gave him a look at receiver, and finally decided to see what he could do as a running back.
After a lost junior season to a finger injury, Gregory reminded everyone just how talented he is with a senior season to remember.
Gregory ran for 1,489 yards and 29 touchdowns over 13 games, and Venice lost only one game with him starting — Friday’s loss to the Raiders.