SARASOTA — Coming off a 39-0 blowout of DeSoto County in Week 1, the Charlotte High football team was in for a more challenging test in Sarasota High on Friday night.
After coming out of halftime down 8-7 to the Sailors, the Tarpons used a quick start to the second half — including a long kickoff return by Ethan Redden and a fumble recovery on the next drive — to score two touchdowns and take a 24-8 lead.
Sarasota added a late touchdown to make it 24-14 with just over two minutes to go at presstime.
For the first half, it appeared that the Tarpons had met their match in Sarasota.
The Sailors intercepted two passes by Tarpons quarterback John Busha in the first quarter. On offense, Sailors senior quarterback Dom Bennett kept the chains moving with his feet — rushing 22 times for 129 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion.
However, Bennett limped off the field late in the second quarter. Though he returned to open the second half with a taped-up left ankle, he wasn’t as effective. He ran for just 15 of his 129 yards after the injury.
Without Bennett picking up first downs, Charlotte controlled the pace of the game.
Another Sarasota turnover — this one an interception by Keon Jones — appeared to be the final blow to any comeback hopes early in the fourth quarter.
Key plays: The two turnovers by Charlotte’s Busha stalled the Tarpons’ momentum in the first half — keeping them off the scoreboard until Isaac White ran in a 5-yard touchdown with 4:24 until halftime.
Sarasota’s Bennett had little problem driving the Sailors offense down the field with his feet. However, he limped off the field in the second quarter, and the Sailors’ offense struggled afterward.
Charlotte finally got on the board just before halftime as running back Isaac White found a hole and charged in for a 5-yard score.
The Tarpons wasted no time to start the second half. Redden returned the kickoff to the Sarasota 40-yard-line and Charlotte methodically drove down the field — capped off with a 3-yard touchdown run by White.
A fumble recovery on the next Sailors drive set up Charlotte to take a shot, and it connected, with Busha finding Niqueu Graham wide-open down the right sideline for a 43-yard touchdown.
Key stats: Bennett made life difficult on the Tarpons’ defense. The senior quarterback rushed 14 times for 114 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the first half.
Though Charlotte had two first-half turnovers, they cleaned it up in the second-half — forcing two and allowing none to shift the momentum.
When Bennett couldn’t find space in the running game, Sarasota had no life on offense. Bennett completed 6-of-13 passes for 36 yards and two interceptions.
What it means: If Charlotte holds on for the win, it’s a solid 2-0 start under new head coach Wade Taylor. Even though the first half wasn’t pretty, Charlotte found a way to respond — shutting down Bennett and cleaning up the passing game to pull away.