The Venice football team put its district championship loss to Manatee in the rearview mirror on the road down to Lehigh for the regional quarterfinals.
The team had its season-ending banquet the Monday after that 30-13 loss, singling the end of the season and starting a new one on Friday night, coach John Peacock said. Venice opened its “new season” with a touchdown by Steffan Johnson 49 seconds into the game and didn’t let up on the way to a 49-0 blowout of the Lightning at Lehigh Senior High School.
“This is a new season for us. We’re moving forward and we’re 1-0,” Peacock said. “We did it in the locker room. We had our banquet and gave out awards. But we ended last year and we started fresh today.”
The Indians scored on every drive in the first half except the final one where running back Brian Taylor was tackled inside the Lehigh 5-yard line as the half expired.
Venice ran with a potent rushing attack that featured four options in Johnson (136 yards), Shevie Pearce (129 yards), Taylor (79 yards) and Da’Marion Escort (31 yards) as it reeled off six touchdowns on the ground.
But it wasn’t all offense for the Indians.
Florida State commit and starting offensive lineman Thomas Shrader played both ways for Venice, stuffing the Lightning rushing attack that included 800-plus yard back Richard Young — holding them to 45 total rushing yards.
By the time the second half rolled around, Venice felt comfortable enough with its seven-touchdown lead to play all backups as a running clock brought about a quick ending to the game.
Key plays: Venice had a 13-0 lead 4:05 into the game as quarterback Steffan Johnson ran in scores of 49 and 32 yards to put his team out in front.
On the Indians’ third drive, Johnson ran in another score — this one from 10 yards out — to give him three touchdowns 7:04 into the game.
Lehigh running back Richard Young fumbled the ball near midfield on his team’s third drive of the game, allowing Venice to go up 28-0 on a 1-yard touchdown by Da’Marion Escort before the first quarter was over.
The Lightning had their best drive of the game after that, taking the ball from their own 20 all the way down to the Venice 8-yard line, but the Indians sacked quarterback Durand Bundy for a loss of 12 yards to force a turnover on downs.
From there on out, Venice added scores from Shevie Pearce (54 yards and 9 yards) and a 24-yard touchdown from Johnson to Malachi Wideman.
Neither team scored in the second half as each side traded punts and turnovers on downs until the clock ran out.
Key stats: Venice dominating the ground game, rushing for 366 yards on 41 carries. Running the ball wasn’t nearly as easy for Lehigh, which finished with 45 yards on 32 carries.
Though the Indians didn’t pass the ball much, they were effective when they did. Johnson was 3-of-4 passing — all to Wideman — for 79 yards and a touchdown.
Bundy, on the other hand, finished 5-of-18 for 32 yards, including throwing incompletions on his first five pass attempts.
Venice also didn’t turn the ball over — aside from two turnovers on downs in the second half. Lehigh fumbled twice in the first half and both led to Venice touchdowns to put the Indians lead out of reach of a comeback.
What it means: Venice continued its undefeated streak on the road this season and may have found a solution to its woes in run defense with Shrader moving onto the defensive line. It also may have found a full-time quarterback in Johnson, who showed elusiveness and was able to pass when needed.
With the win, the Indians advance to the regional semifinals at Palm Beach Lakes next Friday.
Quote: “I’m never a big person on what the final score is,” Peacock said. “I’m big on the process of getting there and I thought we looked really good tonight in all phases of the game.
“We didn’t have penalties and we weren’t killing ourselves in that nature. I felt like we dominated the line of scrimmage and tackled well on defense.”