The first quarter wasn’t yet over the first time Palmetto raised up its new championship belt in Davie. With 35 seconds left in the quarter, Robert Hanna ran an interception back about 40 yards for the Panthers’ first touchdown, headed to the sideline and got handed Palmetto’s new turnover prop.
The safety lifted it toward the crowd of Panthers fans who made the trip up to Western High School from Pinecrest for Palmetto’s kickoff classic and then four more Panthers followed his lead Thursday in a 23-0 win. Palmetto grabbed four interceptions, scored two defensive touchdowns and recorded a safety for a preseason statement in a meeting between Class 8A contenders from South Florida.
“I was really impressed with the way the kids played,” Panthers coach Mike Manasco said. “We felt like our speed was going to be a difference. I felt like we showed that. That secondary back there, from top to bottom, is the best I’ve ever had.”
Both Palmetto and Western are poised for potential breakout seasons in 2019. The Panthers are loaded with defensive talent, particularly in their junior class. Defensive backs Jason Marshall and Corey Collier are both four-star cornerbacks in the 247Sports.com composite rankings, and form one of the best corner tandem in the country. Defensive tackles Leonard Taylor and Savion Collins are four-star recruits, too, and Collins, who recorded a sack in the win, is already orally committed to the Miami Hurricanes.
On Thursday, all four contributed. Taylor followed the interception by Hanna, who is committed to the Syracuse Orange, with a sack for a safety in the second quarter to stretch Palmetto’s lead to 9-0. Collier grabbed another interception on first drive of the second half, then Marshall, who also caught a touchdown, ran another interception back for a score in the fourth quarter to ice the Panthers’ win.
Although Palmetto’s offense didn’t manage much, star wide receiver Kentron Poitier caught five passes for 124 yards and the defense began the year with a shutout.
“When the offense can’t do nothing, the defense held down their business and they held it up,” Poitier said. “I feel that I did well catching the ball, running after.”
Despite the preseason loss, the Wildcats have the profile of a team ready to break through, too. Western made its first three postseason appearances the past three years and added a slew of transfers to an already-talented roster.
Safety James Williams, the No. 4 player in the 2021 class, came in from Plantation American Heritage. Running back Miles Friday moved down to the Miami metropolitan area from Georgia and was once committed to the Tennessee Volunteers. The high-profile group of transfers supplement an entrenched group led by Justin Hodges, a defensive back committed to Miami.
The defense mostly held up the way the Wildcats expected, but there’s room to grow as Western shoots for more than just another trip to the playoffs.
“We saw what we saw, so now we’ve got to work on it,” Hodges said. “We’re coming together, day by day. We’ve got to just keep coming together, practice hard and everything’s going to turn out well in the end.”