The Venice football team put its talent up against the best from 2018, facing off against the state champion Lakeland Dreadnaughts in their annual spring game on Thursday night.
Featuring one of the top running backs in the country in Demarkcus Bowman, Lakeland rushed for 389 yards as it pulled away for a 33-30 victory at Bryant Stadium.
“We were bright in some spots,” Venice coach John Peacock said. “Obviously we were really inconsistent on defense. There were a couple of drive there where we looked really good, then some where we looked bad. We had the ball at the end with a chance to win, which I like. We just didn’t make plays. We have to learn how to make plays when we have to.”
Following a score by Bowman to give Lakeland the lead with 3:36 to play, the Indians were one drive away from a win.
With a 1st and 10 at their own 37, the Indians turned the ball over as Nico DallaCosta’s deep pass to Weston Wolff sailed wide left of his intended target.
Though the Indians attempted a last-minute stand on defense, Bowman — who rushed for 258 yards and two scores on 28 carries — sealed the game with a two-yard rush on 4th and 2 at the Venice 40 yard line with under a minute to go.
“He’s the No. 1 back in the country, so I think it was a combination of everything,” Peacock said. “We want to be a little better on defense, but being the best back in the country, he’s gonna make plays and he’s gonna make his runs.”
While Bowman dominated most of the game, Venice countered with its own star performance from a running back.
Brian Taylor reeled off chunk yards at will for Venice, rushing for 184 yards and two scores on 34 carries.
The rising-senior showed improvements in his ball security (no fumbles) and ability to break tackles, as he had seven carries that went for 10 or more yards.
“I worked on keeping my legs high and keeping them moving when I meet that first man,” Taylor said. “I’ve always been taught that the first man can’t tackle me. I wanna rush for over 1,000 yards and go play college ball.
“I’ve really been inspired by Brandon Gregory (2018 Venice running back), who was a great back. He was that dude last year, and I wanna show the coaches I can carry the load, too.”
Taylor was the key component of the offense on Thursday night as DallaCosta tweaked his left knee on the first offensive drive.
The rising-senior sat out the next drive as he was tended to by the team’s trainer, and returned to the game with a wrapped up left knee. He wasn’t 100 percent healthy for the remainder of the game and also dealt with cramps in his throwing hand as he tried to keep pace with the Dreadnaughts.
“That’s a good team,” DallaCosta said. “They were getting good shots on us. I had two guys on my back, the safety came up and made a good play right on my knee. There wasn’t much I could do.”
Complete passes were hard to come by for Venice with DallaCosta banged up and playing against a state championship caliber defense. However, the quarterback picked up 95 rushing yards (including a 13-yard rushing touchdown) on 18 carries.
“I have to be more consistent,” DallaCosta said. “Coming off that injury, I came out the next couple of drives, and I wasn’t as sound as I need to be. As a quarterback, you need to get it done. This one is kind of on me.”