Speculation boarded the Venice High bus along with tired athletes after the Gondoliers' 27-7 loss Friday afternoon at Manual Arts' Blewett Field.
While the Manual Arts players bounded into the locker room all smiles, Venice could only mumble the what-ifs from a loss that didn't seem fair.
What if leading rusher Ronnel Jamar and his six yards a carry had not been out because of a knee injury? Would Manual Arts' Willie Laffitte have thrown three touchdown passes if Jamar had been in his safety spot?
It is doubtful Venice could have stopped Laffitte with three Jamars.
The Toilers' quarterback threw for 152 yards on 11-for-15 passing, with touchdowns of 15, 25 and 37 yards. He ducked pressure all game, scrambling for 32 yards, and kept drive after drive alive with timely completions.
"He's a guy who can pass if we give him protection," Manual Arts Coach Glenn Bell said. "But today, even when the protection broke down, he was able to find the open receiver."
Laffitte showed that when he led Manual Arts on a 12-play, 69-yard scoring drive on its first series. It was highlighted by a 16-yard pass to Earwin Burton and capped by a 15-yard pass to Reginald Duncan in the back of the end zone.
On Manual Arts' next possession, Laffitte kept the drive going with a 16-yard scramble on third down and seven, and three plays later the Toilers had a 13-0 lead on Wardell Joe's one-yard run.
And the first time Laffitte touched the ball after halftime, he threw it 37 yards for a touchdown to Levar Mahoney and a 19-7 lead.
"I thought before the game that we could pass on them, and I have some great receivers who were able to get open," Laffitte said.
While Manual Arts' offense was clicking, Venice seemed a little off all day. Twice in the second half the Gondoliers were inside the Manual Art's 15 but came away empty.
"Our offense just never got a chance to get going," Venice Co-Coach Tony Chretin said.
Laffitte and Manual Arts just kept going. Their final touchdown came at the end of a nine-play, 94-yard drive that took over seven minutes and ended with John Hildreth's 25-yard scoring catch.
It was a smooth game, particularly for the Manual Arts offense, but it ended strangely.
With 3:55 left the officials implemented the seldom used "sunset rule," which forbids continuation of a game more than 10 minutes after sunset.
Friday's sunset was scheduled for 5:06, and at 5:16 the officials gathered at midfield, and after a brief discussion, picked up the football and walked off the field.
"It was a strange call because I think we could have kept playing for an hour," Chretin said. "But it had absolutely no bearing on this game."