VENICE — The Venice High football team has lost three of its past four games, but the Indians haven’t been in a better spot since their championship parade ended.
Working with almost an entirely new offense and several inexperienced players, Venice lost a Kickoff Classic game to IMG Academy (No. 2 in FL) before also losing in Week 1 to Miami Northwestern (No. 6 in FL) and then again in Week 4, this past Thursday, against St. Frances Academy of Baltimore (No. 3 in U.S.).
Venice (No. 8 in FL) has maintained a high ranking thanks to the most difficult opening month of games in 16 seasons under coach John Peacock.
“I think we’ve made huge strides since Week 1 and huge strides since the spring,” Peacock said. “We’re gonna be a team that improves a lot more than the rest of the teams in the state just because we are so young with basically no one coming back on offense.
“So, we’re going to be making bigger strides than almost anybody. It’s just a matter of how quickly we can do that.”
Venice saw glimpses of its progress this past week in a nationally televised loss to St. Frances. The Indians took an early 3-0 lead, trailed just 14-3 at halftime, then rallied from a 27-3 hole by scoring two late touchdowns against one of the best teams in the nation.
This week won’t be much easier as the Seminole Fighting Seminoles (No. 12 in FL, No. 2 in Class 4-Metro) come to Powell-Davis Stadium for a Week 5 matchup with the Indians at 7:30 p.m.
The Seminoles won the 8A state championship in 2020 before bowing out in a regional championship loss to Apopka last season.
Seminole (4-0) is setting itself up for another postseason run after an undefeated month of football to open this season. The Fighting Seminoles are armed with a dangerous passing game that has powered them to more than 40 points in three of their first four games.
Senior quarterback Luke Rucker (FAU commit) has completed 56-of-85 passes (65.8%) for 920 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.
He has several pass catchers at his disposal, but two stand out.
Senior three-star FSU commit Darren “Goldie” Lawrence was suspended for two games, but already has 127 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns (three receiving, two rushing) through two games.
Alongside Lawrence is junior wide receiver Michael Kay (offers from Mississippi State, Iowa State), who has shined in Lawrence’s brief absence — recording 21 receptions for 404 yards and seven touchdowns (five receiving, two rushing) through four games.
“They have two receivers who are really explosive and put up big numbers,” Peacock said. “They’re very productive, so we’re going to have to one, get a good pass rush and two, make sure we have good coverage and we’re sound in the backfield.”
The Seminoles also have a capable rushing attack with three different ball-carriers already amassing over 100 rushing yards this season, including senior Rory Thomas (offers from Marshall, UMass).
These offensive playmakers operate behind an offensive line that include blockers such as Josiah Chenault (6-foot-3, 290 pounds), Max Buchanan (6-foot-5, 275 pounds with offers from FSU, Coastal Carolina, Iowa State, etc,), and Stephon Mango (6-foot-3, 280 pounds).
The Seminoles don’t appear to be as stacked on defense, where just five starters return, but the early results have been strong – two shutouts while keeping all four opponents under 28 points.
That defense has brought a ton of pressure up front with 16 sacks while also forcing four interceptions and recovering one fumble.
Standouts on the Seminole defense include sophomore safety Ethan Pritchard (offers from UF, UCF, Miami, etc.) and junior linebacker Jordyn Perkins (offers from Kentucky, Georgia Tech, etc.).
“They’re unbelievable,” Peacock said of Seminole. “They have some really good receivers, and they’re explosive. They’re very good on defense, too.
“Not to take anything away from Seminole, though, but we have seen it all by now. Nothing is going to be surprising to us.”
Last meeting: N/A
Venice players to watch: DE Damon Wilson II, CB/RB Elliot Washington II, QB Brooks Bentley, TE Fin Jones, WR Ryan Matulevich, WR Keyon Sears, S Sage Youtzy, OLB Jack Huber, MLB Dominic Wood, RB Jamarice Wilder, RB Alvin Johnson III, DL Colin Adkins
PORT CHARLOTTE (2-2) AT MANATEE (4-0)
The Hurricanes have opened strong in their second season under coach Jacquez Green. Now armed with enough time to assemble a staff and an offseason to condition his players, Green has Manatee out to an undefeated start — pummeling Wiregrass Ranch, Sarasota and Charlotte before inching past Braden River, 10-7, this past week.
Manatee scored over 35 points in each of its first three games, using a two-quarterback rotation of Andrew Heidel and Johnny Squitieri and a stable of dynamic running backs, led by Cory Sanders (297 all-purpose yards, 6 TDs). The Hurricanes cause mayhem on defense, too, as the team has combined for an eye-popping seven interceptions. The front seven applies plenty of pressure, as it has already recorded six sacks, led by sophomore linebacker Ean Johnson-Kelley (three sacks, seven tackles for loss).
Port Charlotte, on the other hand, has proved to be a difficult team to stop.
The Pirates’ balanced offense has put up 35 points or more in three of four games so far and could give the Manatee defense the best challenge its seen this year.
Last meeting: 35-14 Manatee win on Sept. 26, 2008.
Port Charlotte players to watch: RB Edd Guerrier, WR Jamal Streeter Jr., QB Bryce Eaton, WR Justice Becerril, WR Cameron Becerril, LB Samuel Clerjuste, DL Samuel Luther, FS Jeremiah Laguerre, CB Eric Bell, RB Juluis Roach, LB Desmond Hough, LB Grant LaBallister, DL Tyrell Luther, DL Myron Charles
CHARLOTTE (0-3) AT FORT MYERS (1-3)
There couldn’t be a better week for the Tarpons to turn their season around.
Fresh off their bye week, Charlotte is headed into a rivalry matchup against a similarly struggling Fort Myers squad.
The Green Wave opened with a couple of tough losses — 16-10 in overtime to North Fort Myers and a 42-0 bludgeoning from St. Thomas Aquinas — before beating Riverdale, 28-0, and then getting overwhelmed by Dunbar, 56-34.
The Fort Myers offense features a capable passing attack. Four receivers have at least four receptions, led by La’Ern Bonelli, who has five receptions for 150 yards and a touchdown.
However, the defense, has only forced two turnovers and recorded one sack so far. Meanwhile, the Tarpons’ Achilles’ heel has been protecting its quarterback and the ball.
Last meeting: 16-14 Fort Myers win on Oct. 22, 2021.
Charlotte players to watch: WR Brady Hall, LB/RB Kris McNealy, LB/RB Connor Trim, DL Cael Newton, FS/RB Brayan Augustin, QB Michael Valentino, OL Brendan Chavarria, CB/KR Avant Harris, CB Se’Korrey Thomas
DESOTO COUNTY (3-1) AT BAYSHORE (0-3)
The Bulldogs have rebounded nicely from the lone blemish on their record — a 10-7 loss at Mariner in Week 2 — with convincing wins over George Jenkins and Gateway Charter.
Bayshore, on the other hand, hasn’t found a bounce-back game yet as its season-opening slide continues. The Bruins have three tough losses on their record, losing to Sarasota, 56-8, Parrish Community, 62-7, and Cypress Creek, 34-0.
If end zone magnet Lil’Dreco Tompkins and Co. can keep the rushing attack churning out first downs, Bayshore could be in for a long night.
Last meeting: 35-18 DeSoto County win on Sept. 24, 2021.
DeSoto County players to watch: RB/MLB Lil’ Dreco Tompkins, DE/OLB Hunter Zirkle, FB/MLB Evan Roe, RB/CB Gershon Galloway, RB/CB Trinton White, RB/CB Justin Felty, DL Shane Galloway
IDA BAKER (2-1) AT NORTH PORT (0-4)
The Bulldogs suffered a humbling 35-0 loss at the hand of Port Charlotte last week after a 2-0 start.
However, in its wins over Bonita Springs and Mariner, Ida Baker eclipsed 30 points both times, aided by a defense averaging two sacks and two fumble recoveries per game.
North Port has scored 30-plus points once, in a 47-32 loss to Gateway Charter in Week 2.
Last meeting: 14-0 Ida Baker win on Sept. 24, 2021.
North Port players to watch: ATH Jaylon Fulton, RB Taylor Akers, QB Evan Burger, WR/CB Kristian Francis, MLB Peighton Chambers, FS Omar Branch