Prep football: Golden Gate, Immokalee playing for 5A-12 title

Kickoff: 7 p.m.

Key players: IM — QB Tshumbi Johnson, WR/DB Mackensie Alexander, WR/LB Jummy Victorin, WR/DB J.C. Jackson; GG — QB Taylor Anderson, RB Breon Brown, RB Alex Garcia, LB Dre Anthony, WR Dominic Enyart.

What to watch for: This is for all the marbles in 5A-12. Both schools have already qualified for postseason. Winner gets to host first-round playoff game. Loser travels in the first round. Immokalee, which won last year’s contest 63-13 and the district title, is coming off a much-needed bye week that gave the Indians, especially Johnson, time to heal up from injuries. Johnson, who sprained a shoulder three weeks ago against Cape Coral, is expected to play. The Titans are seeking first district title in program’s nine-year history. Brown has revived his season after a slow start. He and Garcia make a formidable running game for Golden Gate. Taylor had three TD passes in last week’s win — the third straight by the surging Titans.

It's no secret what's on the line tonight when Golden Gate hosts Immokalee at Titans Stadium: the Class 5A-District 12 title.

Immokalee has a number of district titles to its credit. The Titans are seeking their first.

Despite the disparity of success between the schools' respective football history, and that both teams have already qualified for the playoffs, each wants the win badly.

If they are to win their second-straight district title, the Indians, according to coach Jerrod Ackley, will have to do so without the talents of quarterback Tshumbi Johnson. A four-year starter, Johnson suffered a sprain to his throwing shoulder during a win over Cape Coral on Oct. 12.

A week later, Johnson played the first two series against Barron Collier before being pulled from the game to rest his ailing shoulder. Without Johnson, the high-scoring Indians managed just one touchdown in a 12-9 upset loss to the Cougars. He was replaced by junior Louinelson Celian, who is expected to start tonight.

After a bye last week, the Indians were expecting a full complement of starters against Golden Gate. Ackley indicated Johnson and his teammates entered the practice week set to play but the team suffered a number of injury setbacks. Ackley said on Thursday night that the Indians will be without a few other starters but declined to provide names.

Despite his depleted troops, Ackley is expecting the best from his team and will not hold his players back to avoid risking further injuries before the postseason.

"We're a little short-handed," he said. "We still feel confident we'll be able to execute our game plan (Friday) night. We're going all out. We expect to win championships at Immokalee."

The Indians won the district last year by defeating visiting Golden Gate 69-13. In 2011, the Titans made the playoffs for the first time since the school opened in 2004. On Friday, they will be seeking their first district title.

"This is a big game on three levels," Golden Gate coach Mike DiGrigoli said. "First is the opportunity to win our first district title. Then there's adding another win to a season that's been short on them. And there's playoff seeding, which can have state championship implications."

The winner gets to host a first-round playoff game. The loser will travel in the first round to the 5A-11 champion's field.

Both coaches regard earning the top spot as vital to their teams' playoff success.

"If you finish in second place, you'll be on the road the entire playoffs without the possibility of a home game," Ackley said. "This game is crucial."

After starting the season 0-5, the Titans have won three straight. Conversely, Immokalee, with seven Division I prospects, was projected as one of the top teams in the state entering the season. The loss to Barron dropped Immokalee to 5-3.

DiGrigoli is hoping the home-field advantage works in his team's favor.

"It's always great to play at home," he said. "Playing at Immokalee is always difficult. It's a big game for us."

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