The Venice High football team couldn’t be sitting in a much better position heading into the regional playoffs this Friday.
The Indians are riding a nine-game winning streak that started over two months ago. They won the district. They’re the top seed in 7A Region-3.
But none of that matters unless No. 1 Venice (9-1) can fight back No. 8 Tampa Bay Tech (7-3) and advance to the second round of the playoffs.
“I think one thing that gives us an advantage is we’re kind of experienced with the playoffs,” Venice coach John Peacock said. “We’re 8-1 in our last nine playoff games over the past two years, so I think that has given us a lot of experience. Hopefully, that can continue with us being at home.”
Standing in the Indians’ way are the Titans, whom Venice soundly defeated, 48-17, last year in the regional finals.
However, as is the case with high school football, no team is the same from year-to-year.
One of the most noticeable differences in Tampa Bay Tech this season is the Titans’ transition to a run-heavy offensive approach. In 2018, the Titans have scored 32 touchdowns on the ground to just three through the air.
The shift in offensive style hasn’t had too much of an effect on the Titans’ record, as they started the year 6-0 before going 1-3 down the stretch to sneak into the playoffs as the final seed in 7A Region-3.
Following a 2017 season in which senior starting quarterback Michael Pennix Jr. threw for over 2,000 yards and passed for 30 touchdowns to five interceptions, Tampa Bay Tech has had to turn to other players to carry the load.
With Pennix Jr. graduated and now playing for Indiana University, it’s been sophomore David Wright’s time to shine.
Though Wright hasn’t been much of a threat with his arm (750 passing yards and three touchdowns to six interceptions), his speed as a dual-threat quarterback is cause for concern for Peacock and the Indians.
“The only thing that scares me is their quarterback is a dual-threat guy,” Peacock said. “He can read it and pull it. But I think our defensive staff has done a good job all year getting us ready.
“I’m not too concerned with giving up huge plays, but we have to be able to get off the field. We need to win first down and put them in a situation they don’t like to be in.”
Another weapon that Venice will have to be ready for is Titans running back Treshaun Ward.
Like Pennix Jr., Ward is also a Division-I commit (University of Maryland), and Tampa Bay Tech coach Jayson Roberts has clearly adjusted his offense to suit Ward’s abilities.
The 5-foot-9, 182-pound senior has proven to be the go-to player for Tampa Bay Tech this season, scoring a team-high 12 touchdowns to go along with nearly 1,100 all-purpose yards.
But Wright and Ward are just the beginning of the Titans’ rushing attack.
A trio of running backs behind Ward have carried the ball at least 35 times each this year, and they’ve made their carries count.
Senior Xavier Freeman has rushed for 452 yards and seven touchdowns while junior Osmanis Aguilera has run for 364 yards and seven touchdowns as well.
The fourth running back on the depth chart, Jamarcus Robertson has also had himself a solid campaign — running for 280 yards and three scores on just 37 touches.
On defense, the Titans rely on speed from their linebackers and secondary rather than an imposing presence up front. Along with an odd defensive front, Venice will have to thwart relentless blitzing by Tampa Bay Tech in order to advance.
“They beat an Armwood team, so they’re used to playing good football teams,” Peacock said. “That district was pretty good with Bloomingdale, Plant City and themselves.
“We’re gonna have our hands full; it’s not gonna be a cakewalk. But of course, pretty much every game we play in the playoffs now will be against solid teams.”