Belen Jesuit set out to try and break a trend that has been going on for the last three years: A District 15-8A championship followed by a first round playoff exit against either Southridge or Palmetto.
Nothing changed on Thursday night as the Wolverines fell behind Palmetto 17-0 at the half and never seriously challenged the Panthers as Palmetto turned in an impressive 45-7 rout at Tropical Park in a Region 4-8A quarterfinal matchup.
Palmetto (10-1) advances to a regional semifinal next week and will now await the winner of Friday night’s Coral Gables-Columbus game.
“Just a good job of coming out tonight and turning in a solid performance on both sides of the football,” said Palmetto head coach Mike Manasco. “Coming in we knew we would have to be efficient on offense and stop their big plays on offense and we did that. We feel like we can play with anybody in this county and we’re looking forward to moving on.”
Belen (8-3) thought it had gotten itself back in the game when the Wolverines put together one of their signature clock-eating drives to open the second half, going 73 yards in 16 plays and converting three fourth downs in the process, including the final time on a 15-yard Rafael Ruiz touchdown run on fourth and 1.
The score cut the deficit to 10 but the problem was the Wolverines ate up the first 10 minutes of the third quarter in doing it. And when an unsuccessful onside kick gave Palmetto the ball at the 50, the Panthers wasted little time getting back in the end zone, taking just four plays to score when quarterback Cairiq Rackley found Brashard Smith for a 13-yard score.
On the second play of Belen’s next drive, running back Don Chaney squared up to try and throw a pass, but linebacker Cuevas Russ crushed him, jarring the ball loose and recovering it at the 10. Two plays later, Rackley hit Smith again from 10 yards out in the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 31-7 and that was that.
“We just basically wanted to come out here tonight and jump on them quick and make a statement,” said Rackley, who threw for 236 yards on 13-of-19 passing and three touchdowns. “We’ve had some weeks where we came out kind of slow and just didn’t want that to happen tonight. We showed that we’re not going to be cakewalk for anybody going forward.”
“We came in here tonight thinking that it wasn’t going to be easy because Belen is a good team so what we did for sure sent a message to everybody else,” said Smith, who finished with four catches for 70 yards and would’ve had a third touchdown had he not dropped one in the back of the end zone in the fourth quarter. “We’re letting everyone know we’ll be here. Our helmets will be on and chin straps will be fastened. Let’s go.”
Palmetto took a lead it would never give up when Rackley tossed an innocent looking pass in the left flat to Mike Jackson that didn’t look so innocent a few seconds later when Jackson used his speed to get around the corner and skirt the sidelines for a 75 yard touchdown with 6:41 left in the first.
A Tyler Larco 31-yard field goal early in the second quarter made it 10-0 and it looked like Belen might get out of the first half only down 10 points.
But, with Belen (8-3) pinned inside its 10 trying to run the clock out, Manasco wisely burned all of his timeouts to force a punt and Jason Marshall made it pay off when he returned the punt 47 yards for a score with 2:01 left that pretty much ripped the heart out of the Wolverines.