By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
It was a memorable season for both Charlotte High School and Venice.
The Tarpons and Indians both finished the regular season undefeated and won regional and district championships, advancing to the state semifinals where they both ultimately fell.
For Charlotte, it won its first regional title since 2002 and another district title. It pulled off a memorable comeback against Port Charlotte to win the district crown, then rallied from a 14-point deficit in the regional finals to defeated Fort Myers 28-24 in double overtime for the regional crown.
Venice avenged last season’s loss to Braden River to win its district title and cruised throughout the rest of the season, winning eight of its nine regular season games by 25 points or more.
But both Charlotte and Venice came crashing down with a thud in the state semifinals. Charlotte was shutout by Carol City 39-0 and St. Thomas Aquinas defeated Venice 43-8.
Port Charlotte was the only other team in the area to make the playoffs, finishing second behind Charlotte in District 6A-10. Injuries derailed the Pirates toward the end of the season as playmaker Ernest Harvey broke his ankle in the loss to Charlotte and quarterback Paul Barnes went down in the regional quarterfinals against Clearwater, which ended Port Charlotte’s season with a 27-16 victory.
Lemon Bay had a disappointing year, especially fresh off of a district title in 2015. The Manta Rays began the season with five losses and only came away with one district victory in a three-win season.
North Port struggled the most in the area, only picking up one win, which came in a 35-12 win over Bayshore after losing five straight to begin the season.
DeSoto County finished ahead of Lemon Bay in District 5A-11 — thanks to a week 4 win over the Manta Rays — but only managed two wins all season.
RECORD: 12-1 overall, 5-0 in District 6A-10
DISTRICT FINISH: District 6A-10 champions, Region 6A-3 champions, Class 6A state semifinalist
TURNING POINT IN SEASON: Charlotte defeated Fort Myers 24-6 in week 5 but lost star-athlete D’Vonte Price to a broken collarbone for the next six games. That could have derailed Charlotte’s season, but instead, the Tarpons continued their winning ways until the state semifinals.
SURPRISING GAME: Charlotte rarely trailed all season but found itself in a 14-0 hole in the regionals finals against Fort Myers, which it defeated earlier in the season. The Tarpons rallied in the fourth quarter and won 28-24 in double overtime to win their first regional title since 2002.
PROSPECTS FOR 2017: The Tarpons will look very different next year as 19 seniors graduate this spring, including quarterback Dee Hicks, Maleek Williams and D’Vonte Price. The trio accounted for 51 touchdowns this seasons, which will be tough to replace. This year’s sophomore class will be relied on next year if the Tarpons are to repeat as district champions
RECORD: 8-2 overall, 4-1 in District 6A-10
DISTRICT FINISH: Finished second in District 6A-10, made regional quarterfinals
TURNING POINT IN SEASON: Port Charlotte blew a 17-0 lead against Charlotte, which cost the Pirates a district title. But the bigger blow was the loss of running back Ernest Harvey, who broke his ankle in the game to cost him the rest of his season. The absence of Harvey was too much to overcome two weeks later in a regional quarterfinal loss to Clearwater.
SURPRISING GAME: Port Charlotte trailed twice to North Fort Myers in week 6 but rallied for a thrilling 38-34 district win, which proved critical for a Pirates playoff berth.
PROSPECTS FOR 2017: The growth of quarterback Paul Barnes in his senior season will be key for the Pirates if they hope to overtake Charlotte for the district title. Port Charlotte says goodbye to Ernest Harvey but still shouldn’t have a problem scoring with the return of T.J. Luther and Marc Jean-Louis. Port Charlotte will have a strong senior class next year, despite losing 18 seniors this season.
RECORD: 3-7 overall, 1-4 in District 5A-11
DISTRICT FINISH: 5th out of six teams in District 5A-11
TURNING POINT IN SEASON: Lemon Bay was winless and in desperate need of a district win, let alone any win, in week 6 versus Hardee. A win would’ve pulled Lemon Bay to .500 in district play but Hardee came away with a 21-7 victory. Two weeks later, Lemon Bay was eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to Southeast.
SURPRISING GAME: It came early in the season in Lemon Bay’s district opener against DeSoto County, which was coming off of a two-win season. The Manta Rays won the 2015 meeting by 20 points but found themselves on the wrong end of a 16-10 score this season, one of just two wins for DeSoto County again in 2016.
PROSPECTS FOR 2017: Quarterback Hayden Wolff took his growing pains as a sophomore but will be more experienced as a junior. A lot will be riding on his shoulders with the graduation of leading rusher Brayden Curry and receiver Victor Mellor.
RECORD: 1-9 overall, 0-5 in District 7A-11
DISTRICT FINISH: Last out of six teams in District 7A-11
TURNING POINT IN SEASON: North Port picked up its first win of the season versus Bayshore in week 6 prior to a stretch of three district games. The momentum didn’t carry over as the Bobcats lost all three and then two more non-district contests to finish the season with only one victory.
SURPRISING GAME: North Port won two games in 2015, with one of them coming in the season opener against Cypress Lake. The two teams met again to begin 2016 but it was a much different story for the Bobcats as Cypress Lake won in a 40-7 route thanks to touchdowns in all three phases of the game in the first half.
PROSPECTS FOR 2017: Coach Brian Hatler continues to try and build a program over at North Port and he hopes its moving in the right direction with quarterback Devon Allen. The signal caller will be a senior next year and the Bobcats hope his experience will help them take a leap forward in 2017 as they only lose six seniors from this season’s roster.
RECORD: 12-1 overall, 5-0 in District 7A-11
DISTRICT FINISH: District 7A-11 champions, Region 7A-3 champions, Class 7A state semifinalist
TURNING POINT IN SEASON: Last year Braden River bested Venice for the district title but the Indians didn’t let that happen again in 2016. Venice bested Braden River 42-35 to improve to 6-0 and it didn’t lose a single game until the state semifinals against St. Thomas Aquinas.
SURPRISING GAME: The Class 7A state semifinal between Venice and St. Thomas Aquinas was expected to be closer than the outcome. Venice trailed 28-0 before finally scoring in the second quarter and ultimately got boat raced 43-8 for a disappointing end to a memorable season.
PROSPECTS FOR 2017: Like Charlotte, there could be a drop off for the Indians next year. Running back Matthew LaRoche was unstoppable this season, rushing for 2,742 yards, but he graduates this spring. Replacing that production is near impossible and will make returning to the state semifinals difficult. Venice should still compete for a district title and possibly a regional title, though. Key defensive playmakers in LBs Trevor Keller and Steele Wilson, and DB Tanner Ayette as well as quarterback Bryce Carpenter and WR Jaivon Heligh on offense will be seniors and should keep Venice competitive in the 7A-11 race with Braden River and an improving Sarasota team.
RECORD: 2-7, 2-4 in District 5A-11
DISTRICT FINISH: Fourth out of six teams in District 5A-11
TURNING POINT IN SEASON: The Bulldogs opened district play with a win over Lemon Bay but went on to lose four straight, including three district games, to take themselves out of the playoff race.
SURPRISING GAME: DeSoto County avenged last year’s season loss to Lemon Bay with a 16-10 victory after getting beat by 20 in 2015.
PROSPECTS FOR 2017: The Bulldogs were a young team in 2016, led by only five seniors, and should improve upon their 2-win total in 2017.