NAPLES — Friday’s game against Golden Gate was a must-win for the Barron Collier football team. Though the Cougars had a tougher time than some expected, they fought off the Titans to win a key district battle, 18-15.
While the Cougars were relieved their chances of making the state playoffs were still alive, the news they received after Friday’s victory might have made them even happier.
Lehigh beat Naples on Friday, knocking the Golden Eagles out of a four-way tie atop the Class 3A-District 12 standings. The Lightning share the league lead with Barron Collier and Lely, all of which are 4-1 in the district.
That means Barron Collier, which beat Lehigh but lost to Naples this season, can win the district title with a win this week over Lely.
“(Lehigh’s win) doesn’t change my outlook,” Barron Collier coach Mark Ivey said. “We still hope to continue to improve each game and make the playoffs. Now, did Lehigh do us a favor by giving us a chance to win the district? Absolutely.”
The jockeying for position among 3A-12’s front-runners ends this week. The district’s cloudy playoff picture will clear Friday when the teams play their final league games.
Barron Collier (7-1, 4-1) and Lely (6-3, 4-1) know their matchup is essentially a do-or-die game. A win guarantees either team a spot in the postseason, while a loss more than likely ends its season.
Losing Friday doesn’t automatically disqualify the Cougars or Trojans from the playoffs. If Lehigh falls in its final district game, it would finish tied with the Barron Collier-Lely loser. If Naples also wins Friday against Golden Gate (2-7), a team the Golden Eagles have never lost to, it would then create a three-way tie for second place in 3A-12.
In the event of a tie among three teams, there would be a tiebreaker Monday. Each team would play each one quarter of football against the other two, with the winner securing the district’s second regional berth.
But with Lehigh (4-4, 4-1), winner of four straight games, playing winless Cypress Lake (0-8) on Friday, both Barron Collier and Lely know they may be watching the playoffs from home if they lose this week.
“We understand this one is for the whole big ball of wax,” Ivey said. “Either we’re district champs or we’re packing up our gear. There’s nothing else to it.”
The 3A-12 champion will play at home against South Fort Myers, the Class 3A-District 11 runner-up, in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 20. The 3A-12 runner-up will play at 3A-11 champ Riverdale.
Because Barron Collier beat Lehigh in Week 4, the Cougars would win the district if both teams finish tied in the standings. Lely lost to the Lightning in Week 5, so the Trojans would be runners-up if both schools end district play with one loss.
After blowing away opponents during a 6-0 start, Barron Collier has had a tougher time the past two weeks. The Cougars lost 27-3 to Naples two week ago before a second-half comeback got them past Golden Gate last week.
Lely is headed the opposite direction. The Trojans fell to 2-3 after losing to Lehigh, but have won four straight to get back into the district title hunt.
Following a tumultuous year in which head coach Steve Pricer resigned and later two Trojans seniors were kicked off the team, Lely is finding its groove.
“We’ve gone through a lot, but it’s made us come together more as a family,” quarterback Sean O’Regan said Friday after beating Palmetto Ridge. “Winning the Coconut (Bowl against Naples) got us even closer and motivated us to do better. We lost Coach Pricer, which I love him and miss him dearly, but coach (Dave) Miller’s been doing a very good job.”
The winner between the Cougars and Trojans could be the only Collier County team to qualify for the regional playoffs. Gulf Coast, Immokalee, Palmetto Ridge and St. John Neumann already have been eliminated from one of the two postseason spots from their respective districts.
Naples has an outside chance at making regionals, but needs Lehigh to lose to Cypress Lake. If the Lightning win, the Eagles will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005 and just the second time since 1998.
Last year four teams from Collier County made the playoffs – Barron Collier, Gulf Coast, Lely and Naples. In 2007, five of the county’s seven football teams qualified for regionals – Barron Collier, Gulf Coast, Immokalee, Naples and St. John Neumann.