There’s no easier way to lock up a spot in the high school football playoffs than by winning the district, and Venice High moved one win away from doing just that on Friday night.
It took the Indians 2:06 to go up 14-0 on the Mustangs before steamrolling their way to a 49-6 victory at Lakewood Ranch High School.
The win was a necessary one, as Manatee remained undefeated in district play with a 52-14 win over Sarasota — setting up a de-facto district championship game between the Indians and Hurricanes on Oct. 25 at Powell-Davis Stadium.
Playing without starting quarterback Nico DallaCosta, who was injured in the first drive last week against St. Frances Academy, Venice (4-3, 2-0) went to Steffan Johnson and Ryan Overstreet at quarterback.
“They did a great job,” Peacock said of his two quarterbacks stepping in for DallaCosta, who wasn’t on the sideline for Friday night’s game. “There’s some things we can clean up, but overall I thought they did a really nice job.”
After taking a 35-6 lead into halftime, it took just six minutes for Venice to begin a running clock in the second half — bringing in its second unit to finish the job.
Key plays: Johnson danced through the mustangs defense, taking off up the right sideline for a 61-yard touchdown on the game’s first offensive play.
After a Lakewood Ranch 3-and-out, Charles Brantley blocked a punt attempt at the Mustangs’ 30-yard line and fell on it in the end zone to go up 14-0 barely two minutes into the game.
The Venice defense ensured it would be a blowout by stopping the Mustangs twice inside the 20-yard line — once on a missed 22-yard field goal that was tipped and once on an interception by Elliot Washington at the Venice 4-yard line.
With under two minutes remaining in the first quarter, the Indians went for it on 4th and 7 and Overstreet found Weston Wolff sprinting free down the middle for a 49-yard score to go up 21-0.
Michael Cucci of Lakewood Ranch saved what would have been an immediate running clock to start the second half by catching a 38-yard touchdown with just 48 seconds left in the second quarter.
However, Lakewood Ranch couldn’t complete a fourth-down attempt at its own 36 and then was intercepted by Kade Reyher on the next drive — setting up short field for Venice to score two more touchdowns — one on a 9-yard run by Johnson and the other on a 15-yard pass from Overstreet to Myles Weston.
Key stats: It took Venice 11:12 to go up 21-0 on Lakewood Ranch, putting enough distance between the two teams to effectively put the game in hand in the first quarter.
Johnson and Overstreet were a two-headed monster at quarterback. Johnson primarily stuck to the ground game, rushing 9 times for 120 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown on the first offensive play of the game. Overstreet did all of his damage through the air, completing 15-of-20 for 211 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Indians sat starting running back Brian Taylor for much of the night and Da’Marion Escort shined in his absence. The sophomore rushed 9 times for 80 yards including a 44-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Lakewood Ranch tried to stick to the ground game to no avail. The Mustangs rushed 33 times for 110 yards and couldn’t capitalize on drives that made it into Venice territory.
What it means: The Indians took care of business on Friday night, pulling away from the Mustangs early and cruising to an easy victory. The win sets up a pivotal matchup with Manatee in Week 10 for the district title. However, it’s not yet known if Venice will have DallaCosta for that game. The team had the chance to see what backups Overstreet and Johnson could do — albeit against a lesser team.
Quote: “It’s back to the old days with us and Manatee,” coach John Peacock said of Venice vs. Manatee for the district title. “It’s gonna be nice to get back to that old rivalry.”