Prep football: Naples High looking for redemption against Mainland in 6A regional final

Naples, Thomas Martin, No.9, attempts to break a tackle from Mainland's, William Davis, No. 7, during regional final game at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Friday, Dec. 2, 2011. (Nigel Cook/The Daytona Beach News-Journal)

Photo by Nigel Cook/The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Naples, Thomas Martin, No.9, attempts to break a tackle from Mainland's, William Davis, No. 7, during regional final game at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Friday, Dec. 2, 2011. (Nigel Cook/The Daytona Beach News-Journal)

Who will win, Naples or Mainland?

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Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.

Key players: M — QB Cameron Hadley, RB Stephen Bostick, DL Jontey Byrd, LB Quinton Powell. N — QB Kilton Anderson, RB Manny Morgan, LB Brian Donnelly, DB Jordan Perez.

What to watch for: This is a rematch of last year’s regional final, which Mainland won 27-16 at home. The winner plays the winner of Miami Central and Melbourne-Palm Bay in the state semifinals. Naples is eager for revenge after turning the ball over seven times, two which were returned for touchdowns, last year against the Buccaneers. This could be the final game for Morgan, who has 4,216 career rushing yards and 48 touchdowns. Mainland also beat Naples for the 5A state championship in 2003.

It was the kind of loss that festers in the offseason. A loss that runs through players' heads over and over again for eight months.

The Naples High football team played its worst game of the season in last year's Class 6A regional championship. The Golden Eagles committed seven turnovers, gave up two defense touchdowns, and were held to a season low in points.

And yet Naples trailed by less than a touchdown with five minutes left before losing 27-16 on the road to Daytona Beach-Mainland.

"It was very, very difficult to put that behind me and our players and our coaches," Naples coach Bill Kramer said. "Everything in the offseason, all the commitments we made in terms of football, was geared toward getting back to this place and having a chance to redeem ourselves."

The Golden Eagles (11-0) get their shot a redemption — and revenge — when they host Mainland (9-3) in Friday night's Class 6A-Region 3 championship game.

Naples has had its eyes on a return to the regional finals since last year's disappointing loss. The game against Mainland was one the Eagles felt they let slip through their fingers.

Last year's game was the second start for quarterback Kilton Anderson, then a sophomore who was playing as an injury replacement. It was close until the Buccaneers returned two Anderson turnovers, an interception and a fumble, for touchdowns in a four-play span in the third quarter.

Now the full-time starter, Anderson said he's more mature physically and mentally this season. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound quarterback is eager to face Mainland's swarming defense and more prepared to handle the big-game pressure than he was a year ago.

"That game last year we played our hearts out," Anderson said. "We didn't get the plays and score when we needed to. This year we're going to take a new approach and hold onto the ball. It's going to be a completely new game."

Mainland returned just six starters this season, but has found success again thanks to their speed and athleticism. The key has been the play of versatile quarterback Cameron Hadley.

After missing almost all of his junior year with a knee injury, Hadley has thrown for 1,287 yards and 18 touchdowns against three interceptions this season. He's also rushed for 720 yards and seven scores.

"They didn't lose that much from last year," Kramer said. "They are freakishly athletic. They're better on offense, and their defense is always one of the best in the state."

Friday night's regional final also is a rematch of the 2003 Class 5A state championship game. Mainland beat Naples 24-13 in its only state finals appearance.

Naples is playing for a regional championship for the eighth time in 12 years, but this is the first time since 2007 the Golden Eagles have been at home in the regional finals. A victory would give Naples its first regional title since it won the 3A state championship in 2007.

Playing in front of a rowdy home crowd at Staver Field is a big advantage, players say, especially when Mainland has to make a 241-mile road trip to Naples.

Last year, the Golden Eagles traveled the night before their game with Mainland, staying in Orlando and doing their normal Thursday night walk-through at Edgewater High School. Kramer said the long trip wasn't a distraction for the players. However making travel arrangements, which the coach handles himself, took Kramer away from game planning.

"We don't have to take a long bus ride, stay in a hotel; all those extra things that can be a distraction," Naples senior receiver Travis Manhardt said. "Hopefully we'll have a huge home crowd with a lot of people there to help us out. It's a big advantage instead of going all the way up there to Daytona."

Kramer doesn't expect the road trip or the crowd to intimidate Mainland too much. The Buccaneers are too good for that.

Instead, the Eagles coach is preparing his team for another physical battle and what could be a classic high school football game.

"At this point in the season the distractions are few and far between," Kramer said. "There are eight teams left (in 6A), and they're all really, really good. Right now everybody is pretty banged up. Everybody's fuel tank is just about on empty. It becomes a microfocus issue for everyone, and I think we'll be fine."

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