NAPLES — Two weeks ago, Lely was a losing football team still reeling from controversy surrounding the resignation of its head coach and the discipline of its star player.
Already with a season’s worth of distractions, the Trojans stumbled in Week 5 in a loss to Lehigh. Lely let an 11-point lead slip away in the game’s final seven minutes, losing 20-17 and dropping its record to 2-3.
At 1-1 in Class 3A-District 12 after the loss, every league game became a must-win if the Trojans hoped to make the playoffs. It was beginning to look as though Lely’s high hopes to start the year were all but gone.
Fast forward 14 days, and all those doubts and struggles seem to be forgotten. As Lely players cheered and celebrated their 12-6 overtime win Friday at No. 6 Naples High, the coveted Coconut Bowl trophy lofted triumphantly overhead, the Trojans showed no resemblance to the team ravaged by early-season turmoil.
“Just to win a game like that in overtime against a Florida power like Naples, that’s a great win for our program,” interim head coach Dave Miller said. “The guys are starting to believe. They’re really starting to believe in what we’re trying to do, and we’re going to get there.”
The Trojans (4-3, 3-1) have had playoff aspirations since the end of last season. Lely went the state playoffs last year for the first time in three seasons and returned perhaps Collier County’s biggest star in running back Darion Hall.
Hall gained 2,000 yards as a junior in 2008 and scored 23 touchdowns. He committed to the University of Miami in the summer and had Trojans fans thinking he would do even better this year.
The first signs of trouble for the Lely football team came before the season officially kicked off. The Trojans had their preseason game canceled after opponent Tampa Catholic suffered an influenza outbreak.
A week later, Lely’s season-opener at Miami-Gulliver Prep was postponed a day, then cut short by severe weather as the Trojans lost 34-14.
The drama was only starting.
One day before Lely’s Week 2 game against county rival Gulf Coast, Lely administrators announced head coach Steve Pricer resigned because of health issues. While principal Ken Fairbanks and athletic director Paul Ruby refused to comment, Pricer said he was forced out after several disagreements with Fairbanks.
One of the disagreements, Pricer said, was over the treatment of Hall. The running back was suspended for Week 2, but Pricer said he wanted to severely punish Hall, which led to a dispute.
Three days before the Coconut Bowl, more discipline issues disrupted the Trojans when it was announced seniors Matt Costello and Dylan Lynch were kicked off the team.
It’s been a trying year, admitted Miller, who was promoted from defensive coordinator after Pricer resigned. Despite all the distractions, Miller said he is proud of his team’s focus in Friday’s upset over Naples. Mackinton Dorleant blocked a Naples field goal in overtime, and Sean O'Regan completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Romanthi Mathurin to win it.
“The guys definitely are looking forward,” Miller said. “We’re not going to worry about things in the past. We’re going to control what we can control from here on forward. Our goal is to get that district title now.”
The Coconut Bowl victory is Lely’s biggest win in a long time. The last time the Trojans beat Naples was in 2005, and they have only beaten the Golden Eagles twice in the past 11 seasons.
Now Lely players hope the Coconut Bowl win will give them momentum heading into the final stretch of the season.
“It shows us that we still got it,” Hall said of the upset. “We lost a couple good players, but we’re working through it. We lost a coach, but we’re working through that, too. We’re just real excited right now.”
The district victory also may salvage the Trojans’ tumultuous season. With two losses in 3A-12, Lely would have needed a ton of help to earn one of the league’s two available playoff spots. Now, if they win the rest of their games, the worst the Trojans will finish is tied with Barron Collier in the district standings.
Lely has two district games left – Friday at winless Cypress Lake and at home Nov. 6 against Barron Collier, the Trojans’ final regular season game. Lely, Naples and Lehigh each have one loss in 3A-12, while Barron Collier is undefeated.
While the Trojans’ outlook might have been bleak after a disappointing loss to Lehigh, things are starting to look up at Lely.
“Our goals are still right there where we want them,” Miller said. “Guys are starting to buy into the team concept. They’re not worried about what they do, they’re just worried about winning the game. Our goal from here on out is to win, win, win.”