When arriving at the football field at Winterberry Park fans immediately felt the strong football atmosphere.
Not that of a middle school game, but of a high school game, with a lot on the line.
The Marco Island Charter Middle School Eagles that started in earnest in August for the school’s first football team were going against an established Clewiston football program.
Clewiston showed immediately that they were not letting Eagles running back Patrick Michel beat them. Going into the game, the Eagles were 3-0, with Michel scoring eight touchdowns.
The Clewiston kicker tipped the ball for a rolling kick, fell on by an Eagles player who normally would have been blocking for a Michel return. After Clewiston scored the ensuing kick went out of bounds. Clewiston would have rather taken the penalty for kicking the ball out of bounds than kick to Michel.
When Clewiston’s offense came onto the field a low gasp was the Eagles fans responses... and maybe the team’s. Their front line was huge. These eighth graders weighed in near 200 pounds each. And Clewiston immediately showed what they were going to do all game. Run the football.
Behind the huge line and a speedy Hiram Simpson, Clewiston went on a 68-yard scoring drive. Missing the extra point, Clewiston took the early lead at 6-0.
That’s how the score stood after one quarter.
The Eagles came alive in the second, mixing a couple of short pass and run plays that got them to the Clewiston 11. Quarterback Cody Young then took a broken play and turned it into a score, muscling the final defender at the goal line. Young kicked the extra point and the Eagles were ahead, 7-6.
With time waning in the first half, the Eagles forced a fumble and moved down the field. With less than 12 seconds in the half the Eagles tried a long pass that was intercepted and raced back for a Clewiston touchdown as time ran out. The two-point conversion was good and the Eagles trailed 14-7 at half.
Charter coach Mike Vanderjagt took the blame.
“We got greedy, we should have run out the clock,” he said.
Clewiston’s Simpson scored on a 20-yard run to end the scoring in the game with 3:47 left in the third.
The Eagles looked like they were moving toward a score when Michel raced for 20 yards, but got hit from both sides in a crunching tackle that caused a fumble and a Clewiston recovery on their own 23 yard line.
The Eagles drove to the Clewiston 18 late in the third, but the drive fizzled.
In the fourth quarter, badly needing the ball, it appeared the Eagles had stopped Clewiston on a fourth-down play when the Eagles were called for a late hit after the Clewiston runner was out of bounds.
With 2:32 left in the game, Young broke for 30 yards, but the play was called back because of a penalty. On a short pass and run, Michel brought the ball to the Clewiston 25.
With little time left, the Eagles chose to pass and it was intercepted around the 10-yard line. Clewiston then ran out the clock for the win.
Michel got roughed up plenty by the bigger Clewiston team, but kept coming back, playing on offense and defense.
Young had a good game, except for two interceptions, while Trevor Dye, offense and defense, Colin McMullen, offense and defense, and Jonathan Kriqi on defense, led the Eagles.
“It was a good football game,” Vanderjagt said, “They were really big up front, but we played them well. We have a lot to learn and our backups need to contribute more, but overall they did well. They only scored twice against our defense.”
As the players left the field, the coaches kept saying, “No heads down.”
Vanderjagt said, “The Charter school fans should be proud how this team has been playing.”
The Eagles travel to First Baptist Academy in Naples for a 6 p.m. game on Thursday.