Washington

Elliot Washington II has played against big-time playmakers since starting as a freshman, and said he’s made for matchups like the one he will have against Jayden Gibson this week.

VENICE — Elliot Washington II may have the biggest challenge of anyone for the Venice High football team this week, but the junior cornerback isn’t backing down.

“I feel like I’m meant for it,” he said of matching up with West Orange star receiver Jayden Gibson this Friday night at Powell-Davis Stadium in the regional final. “This is probably the only player who will give me a challenge this year.

“I feel like all of our (defensive backs) are meant for this challenge. I think if we come out and lock in, we’ll come out with the win.”

Washington, a junior, is a three-year starter for the Indians and is ranked as a consensus four-star recruit. He’s earned offers from nearly every top college football program in the country, including Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State — his top five preferred schools.

This season, he has intercepted two passes with three pass breakups as quarterbacks often don’t dare to throw his way.

Gibson, a senior, is a four-star wide receiver who recently committed to the University of Florida. This season he has led the Warriors offense with 46 receptions for 728 yards and 13 touchdowns.

“They have probably the best receiver in the state, and when you say that, he’s one of the best in the country, too,” Venice coach John Peacock said of Gibson. “He can run, he can catch and they try to get the football to him. He’s a Malachi (Wideman) type. Physically, he’s gonna be a lot better than everybody. But with Elliot on him, I don’t know how much better. I feel good about our chances.”

While Washington and Gibson will be the matchup to watch, that doesn’t mean there won’t be several others to pay close attention to as well.

West Orange (11-1), a team from Winter Garden in the Orlando area, is ranked No. 11 in FL and No. 4 in 8A competition with a deep and talented roster.

The Warriors lost to Apopka on Sept. 3, but have dominated since, including playoff wins over Durant and Osceola.

Senior pocket passer Tyler Huff (1,503 yards, 21 TDs, 6 INTs) delivers the ball to Gibson and three other primary receivers in Asaad Waseem, Eddie Kelly and Rocky Rudolph, who each have at least four scores.

Running backs Terrell Walden II and Jessie Shannon have split the work in the backfield this year, but Walden has been the go-to player with 742 yards and 15 touchdowns.

West Orange is nearly as strong on defense.

The Warriors defense has allowed 7.3 points per game this season, while averaging nearly 10 tackles for loss, four sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery per game.

Most of the havoc comes up front with speed and strength and defensive end and outside linebacker.

Defensive linemen Brendan Flakes (three-star Marshall commit) and Eddie Kelly (three-star USF commit) lead the way.

Flakes has 60 tackles (24.5 for loss) and 12 sacks as he is constantly in the backfield while Kelly is close by with 59 tackles (20 for loss) and four sacks while three others also have at least four sacks.

“They’re a very talented football team,” Peacock said of West Orange. “I think some things in our advantage are that we have played teams like this all year and it’s at home, somewhere where we’re used to playing. I think those will be huge factors.

“We’re gonna give them our best shot and if it becomes one of those nail-biters, I think we’re built for it and we’re gonna be ready for it. If we jump on them early, we’re used to that, too.”

Players to watch: Ryan Browne, Omari Hayes, Austin Bray, Jayshon Platt, Trenton Kintigh, Damon Wilson II, Myles Weston, Elliot Washington, Desavion Cassaway, Martin Ramos, Logan Ballard

Last meeting: N/A

Prediction: 24-21 Venice

Tickets for Friday’s game

Venice High will pre-sell tickets to this Friday’s regional championship game vs. West Orange on Wednesday from 3-5 p.m. at the ticket booth in front of the football stadium.

General admission is $9 and reserved seating is $12 at a limited supply.

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