The last time Venice came to play at Brian Piccolo stadium against St. Thomas Aquinas, the Indians left with a 48-6 loss and much to work on.
Though Venice defeated the Raiders in last year’s 7A semifinal, the Indians struggled to get going early and fell, 38-18, on Friday night in Fort Lauderdale.
“I’m just proud of the kids,” Venice coach John Peacock said. “I thought the kids played hard. We had a great year. I don’t want this to define our year. As of this past week, we were ranked No. 25 in the nation and who would have said that before the year started? Losing everyone we lost and replacing nine guys on defense and seven on offense and all that turmoil that went on.
“I’m just real happy with them.”
Venice appeared to be in store for a heavyweight bout with St. Thomas Aquinas after the Indians shut down the Raiders for a quick three-and-out to start the game.
However, Raiders running back Daniel Carter made a cut to his right and scampered up the right sideline on the first play of their second drive, scoring on a 74-yard touchdown.
It was only the beginning for Carter.
The running back proved to be all St. Thomas Aquinas would need on offense, rushing the ball 22 times for 183 yards and getting first down after first down to keep the play clock rolling and keep the Indians offense off the field.
Carter’s running paved the way for the Raiders offense, as quarterback Curt Casteel hit The’andris Freeman in the end zone for an 18-yard score and a 14-0 lead.
“I think we weathered the storm a bit at 14-0,” Peacock said. “I thought we could kind of calm down and get back into our game plan. But we got field goals instead of touchdowns. To fall down 14 points to them is tough. They’re a good football team.”
Venice almost snuck back into the game, scoring with a 33-yard field goal by Zack Sessa and then getting an interception over the middle from linebacker Nick Giacolone.
But the drive stalled once again, this time at the 5-yard line, and Sessa’s 22-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
The Raiders would soon answer, as Carter scored his second touchdown of the night shortly after on a 2-yard rush with just over a minute remaining before halftime.
Though Venice trailed 21-3 with two quarters left to play, the Indians still couldn’t punch in a touchdown until backup quarterback Nico DallaCosta ran in an 8-yard score with 4:04 left to play.
For Venice, the inability to cross the goal line until mere minutes remained in the fourth quarter was too much to overcome.
The Indians made a late charge after DallaCosta’s touchdown, recovering an onside kick and scoring soon after with a five-yard run by Brandon Gregory.
And despite the efforts of quarterback Hayden Wolff and receiver Weston Wolff (6 catches for 65 yards and multiple penalties drawn) down the stretch, the deficit was too much to come back from for Venice.
While the loss ended the Indians’ season, Peacock stressed to his players in the post-game huddle that their season was more about what happened on Friday night.
“Tonight does not define us,” Peacock said in front of his players huddled before him.
“You guys are unbelievable players and unbelievable people, and we’re gonna continue that. I love you guys.”