IMMOKALEE — This one was for the seniors, both this year’s and last.
Immokalee’s football team couldn’t go to the state playoffs last year, despite a dominant 10-0 season, due to FHSAA violations. Before this season started, the Indians’ seniors set the bar high. They wanted a state championship, despite losing many key players like Brian Rolle and Aaron Henry, both playing Division I college ball this year.
After a 1-3 start, that goal looked unattainable. But the team kept fighting, winning four of its next five games, the only blemish a one-point loss to Golden Gate. The Indians capped their comeback season in style Monday night, topping Lely 13-6 in a one-quarter tiebreaker for the District 3A-14 runner-up spot. Lely had defeated Golden Gate 15-0 earlier in the night to set up its showdown with the Indians.
Immokalee (5-4) is back in the state playoffs, where it will face District 3A-13 champion South Fort Myers in a regional quarterfinal game next Friday.
“It’s a tribute not only for this group but last year’s seniors,” Immokalee coach John Weber said. “They remember not going last year and why, especially since we would have had a shot to win the state title. I think they’re doing that for the guys that played last year. We’re just getting a great effort from these kids.”
The Indians won the toss and impressively marched down the field, with running backs Carl Elie and Darius Deloach doing most of the work. Elie carried seven times for 28 yards on the drive, and Deloach finished things off with a 26-yard touchdown scamper to give the Indians a 7-0 lead with 8:24 left.
The Indians forced a three-and-out on Lely’s first possession when Deloach struck again. The speedy sophomore fielded a punt at his 35 yard-line and returned it 58 yards in which he made a number of Trojans miss, giving the Indians a first-and-goal at the seven.
“I liked that one. It made my day right there,” Deloach said. “I didn’t score but I set us up in good shape.”
Lely’s defense rose to the task, allowing just four yards on the drive and forcing an incompletion from Jesse Delarosa on fourth down.
However, Lely couldn’t get anything going in the shadow of its end zone and faced a fourth-and-12 from the Trojans 1 with less than five minutes to go. Lely set up in punt formation but opted for the fake. Dennis Marcelin’s pass was high and Immokalee’s Gladimir Casime picked it off, deftly returning it 19 yards for the score and a 13-0 Indians lead.
Lely coach Steve Pricer defended the decision to go for it, although he said Marcelin had the option to punt it if the coverage was good.
“We were hoping to catch them off guard,” Pricer said. “(Marcelin) was supposed to read the safety and he didn’t do it, but he’s young and we’ve only worked on that for three weeks. It was just a matter of him not reading the safety. We felt we had to go for it; we felt we couldn’t give them the ball back. That’s just the way it is. You’ve got 12 minutes and you’ve got to make the most of those 12 minutes.”
The Trojans fought back, cutting the deficit to 13-6 with 1:48 remaining on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Mike O’Regan to Matt Costello.
The Trojans recovered Marty Krauss’ onside kick and had the ball first-and-10 at the Immokalee 45. Immokalee’s defense stiffened, forcing an intentional grounding from O’Regan and getting a sack from seniors Victor Ledezma and Jason Lee to force a fourth-down desperation heave.
“Coach told us if he ever called the Cover 4 again to call timeout,” Ledezma joked. “We knew we had to make some plays. If we stopped them, the game would be over. The guys just played hard, like we’ve been doing all year.”
Lely dominated its meeting with Golden Gate, getting a strong defensive effort and a funky score from Fortin Faustin, who recovered a fumble and returned it 41 yards. He caught O’Regan’s two-point conversion pass, giving the Trojans an 8-0 lead.
Lely executed the fake punt to perfection later in the period, with Marcelin hitting Darion Hall for a 37-yard score.
Things got chippy when Lely intercepted a pass with just over a minute left. The teams exchanged words and shoves, with Golden Gate’s Wilmyd Joseph getting ejected for leaving the bench. Coaches from both squads broke up the melee before things got out of hand, but the referees decided to call the contest with 1:08 left.
“Wilmyd is a quiet kid, it’s out of character for him, but the guys were frustrated,” Golden Gate coach Dave Tanner said. “I’m going to stick up for my kids, they’re good kids. Our coaches did a good job of getting out there, because I didn’t see anybody else doing much to break it up.”
Golden Gate finishes the season 5-5, while the Trojans still have a chance at a winning season when they host Gulf Coast on Friday.
“I’m proud of the way our kids fought back (against Immokalee),” Pricer said. “And we’ve still got something to play for. It’ll be Senior Night and we want that winning season. That sixth win is important to us.”
Immokalee travels to Barron Collier on Friday before its playoff opener with South Fort Myers.
“After the first five games if you told me we’d have a chance to be in the playoffs and possibly go 6-4, it would have seemed unlikely,” Weber said. “The biggest difference is the intensity level really picked up and they learned what we wanted out of them. We’re proud of what this group has done this year.”