And then there were two.

Only two area high school football teams remain in the hunt for a state title.

The sixth-seeded Charlotte Tarpons (9-3) will travel to Palmetto to take on the state's No. 1 team in 6A, the 11-1 Tigers, in a Regional Final at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night. Palmetto roughed up the Tarpons with a 34-0 shutout back on October 11. 

Meanwhile the Venice Indians (7-4) will face off against 7-4 Manatee in Bradenton, also at 730 p.m. on Friday night. These two teams met on October 25 at Venice and the Hurricanes handed Venice a sobering 30-13 loss.

So what can we expect from each of these matchups?

Here are three things to watch in each game:

For Charlotte, its about the defense and one particular player on offense:

1. Stopping Palmetto’s offense: After a fairly quiet first half, the Tigers blew things open in the second half back in October. 

Tailback Sagel Hickson consistently evaded the first tackler and finished with a 144-yard, two-touchdown night. While quarterback Xavier Williams went 12 of 21 for 195 yards and three touchdowns.

The Tarpons will need to find a way to keep a lid on this explosive offense for four quarters.

2. The play of quarterback John Busha: As the junior QB goes, so goes the Charlotte offense,

Busha threw for 81 yards and two interceptions against Palmetto last time around, although he did pick up 60 yards on the ground.

On the season, Busha has passed for nearly 1,300 yards, 15 TDs and 7 INTs,  while rushing for another 719 yards and 12 TDs.

3. Force turnovers: The Tarpons did not have a key turnover in the first meeting, but will probably will need to force at least one or two to hang in this game.

According to MaxPreps, Palmetto has thrown only six interceptions on the season, while losing eight fumbles, five of which the opposition recovered.

For high scoring Venice, its mostly about the offense. 

1. Getting QB production:  The quarterback position has been a bit of a revolving door for Venice this season. Opening night starter Nico Dallacosta  was out by the time the Indians played Manatee in late October and current starter Steffan Johnson only threw one pass for 8 yards. Senior Ryan Overstreet saw the bulk of the time, throwing for 244 yards and a TD, but also threw three picks.

Johnson, a junior, now appears to be the man, having rushed for a record-breaking 387 yards and five TDs in the rout against Palm Beach Lakes Friday night.

2. Starting strong: The Indians have enjoyed large, early leads in each of their playoff victories.

They were up 35-21 at halftime vs. Palm Beach Lakes and Venice scored 28 in the first quarter against Lehigh the week before.

But the Indians were down 13-0 early in the previous loss to Manatee.

Taking an early lead takes the pressure off of the defense and allows them to deploy Johnson in the running game.

3. Stopping the run game: The Hurricanes ran all over Venice a few weeks ago.

Seniors Napoleon Harris and Tyson Phelps combined for 273 yards and four touchdowns last time out.

Venice must control the line of scrimmage if it is to hold Manatee's talented backfield combo at bay.

Vinnie Portell contributed to this story

Email Scott Zucker at 


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