NAPLES — Notes on area football teams:
The Cougars defense is getting healthy at the right time.
Already one of the top units in the area, Barron Collier's defense had its best performance of the year Friday. The Cougars gave up a season-low 42 yards of offense to Lely while earning their third shutout of the season.
"We feel pretty good," coach Dan Pallante said. "We're getting everyone back and we're playing well."
Pallante has used a rotation on defense to give players a break. He has moved many of his top defenders to offense, which has forced him to find fill-ins on defense. Linebackers Jake Berman, Andy Boileau and Conner Reynolds all have played running back this year.
The Cougars defense is allowing five points and 75 yards a game, but will face its toughest test Friday at Naples. The Golden Eagles average 54 points and 429 yards a game.
— Adam Fisher
Over the last two weeks of practice, Seahawks coach Damon Jones has put a heavy emphasis on playing together as a single, cohesive unit. The results have led to two straight weeks of shutout football, including Friday night's 36-0 victory over Winter Haven-All Saints' Academy.
"We had another good, solid team effort and I am really pleased with how we have been able to come together as a team," Jones said.
Jones was also pleased to see two-way player Juslin Jean fully healthy and playing a bigger role with the team. Jean serves as the team's running back and defensive end, but was limited by injury the past two weeks.
"He played really well, mainly on defense. He got good penetration from the outside and did a good job of getting pressure on the quarterback," Jones said.
Jean had five tackles — two for a loss — on defense. As a rusher, he carried the ball five times for 19 yards.
— Scott Butherus
How important is senior Ricky Lopez to his Estero team?
The eyes of Estero coach Rich Dombroski, whose team returns to Class 5A-District 11 play at home against Cape Coral this week, twinkled as he spoke of Lopez.
"He does everything for us," Dombroski said. "He kicks, he punts and plays DB and all that stuff. He's one of the better athletes at Estero High School and we try to use him in every capacity."
Take Friday's 39-20 win at Palmetto Ridge, for example, when the 5-foot-8, 160-pounder was everywhere.
Lopez pounced on a fumble, racked up multiple tackles and batted away a pass. His 15-yard touchdown catch at the goal line, after which he bulled in, finally gave the Wildcats a 25-20 lead they wouldn't relinquish. He kicked three PATs, averaged 34 yards on two punts and booted all but one kickoff into the end zone.
How important is that? Marcus Smith turned the only non-touchback into a 96-yard touchdown.
Lopez had two catches for 24 yards and returned an interception 55 yards for a TD with 53 seconds left for good measure.
"He's our best DB in my opinion, and he's one of our best receivers," Dombroski said. "The problem is, trying to play both ways the entire game. We try to rest him when we can."— Dana Caldwell
The Lions might have found a new dimension to an already powerful offense on Friday. First Baptist rotated quarterbacks with Jonah Bueltel and Corey Todd getting about equal reps.
Each signal-caller presents his own challenge to opposing defenses. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Todd is a bruising runner. He also attempted the only pass of the night. Bueltel, who also plays wide receiver, is smaller, faster and can scamper around the end while Todd bulldozes up the middle.
The quarterbacks combined to run for 269 rushing yards and all three First Baptist touchdowns Friday in a 21-7 win over St. John Neumann.
"He's big and can truck people," said Bueltel, who is one of the area's leaders with 683 rushing yards. "I'm more of a quicker player. We're just competing for the position right now, but it's fun."
"Jonah's the shifty type guy," Todd added. "I like to get down and dirty. I give Jonah credit. He's done an amazing job."
— Adam Fisher
In losing to Naples 43-10 on Friday, the Titans dropped to 0-5 on the season. That's the bad news.
The good news for coach Mike DiGrigoli's team, however, is that the beast of all first-half schedules is now behind Golden Gate, and a more palatable second half awaits after the Titans' bye this Friday.
The combined record of the Titans' first five opponents: 23-2, including three undefeated teams. The second half will serve up five opponents with a combined record of 10-14.
"We're not into moral victories," DiGrigoli said after the Naples game. "It would be wrong for me to be excited about any loss, but the schedule will benefit us now. We played the best possible teams we could. The second half of the season will be challenging, but we've already played some of the best. There won't be any daunting task in front of us we haven't already faced."
Regardless if the Titans were 0-5 or 5-0, the only two games that really matter — 5A-11 matchups at Lely (Oct. 19) and home against Immokalee (Nov. 2) — for postseason consideration are upcoming.
If the Titans win one of those games, even if it's the only win all season, then they'll qualify for the playoffs.
— Scott Clair
The stats in Friday night's loss to Immokalee didn't necessarily show how well sophomore quarterback Nick Schmidt played.
Schmidt didn't complete a pass in nine attempts, although at least four passes went right through his receivers' hands. He also ran 11 times for 45 yards and played turnover-free football.
Schmidt is starting due to a preseason injury to junior Zimon Brennan, and coach Pete Fominaya is pleased with the youngster's progress.
"He's got a lot of poise," Fominaya said. "All these reps are going to pay dividends for this program in the future. He's our guy; we're hanging our hat on him. He's doing a great job, the kids believe in him, and he gets more confident every week. We're really proud of him."
— Andy Sodergren
Junior backup quarterback Louinelson Celian got a chance to show what he could do late in Immokalee's 42-9 win over Gulf Coast on Friday.
Celian guided the Indians' final scoring drive, hooking up with D'Ernest Johnson on an 8-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
Celian went 4-for-7 for 69 yards in his two possessions under center, including completions of 26 and 23 yards to Jacky Fabius and Xavier Richardson, respectively.
"He did a really nice job of throwing the ball," Immokalee coach Jerrod Ackley said. "He's a good athlete as well. This was a good team effort overall."
Third-string quarterback Jacob Gallegos also saw action in mop-up duty, but the sophomore didn't attempt a pass.
— Andy Sodergren
Lely emerges from two straight weeks of playing teams with very little offense to face an Immokalee team that has plenty.
Friday's game is a district game matchup for both teams. In the scratch-your-head FHSAA district system, the team's only other district game is against Golden Gate.
In its loss to Barron Collier, Lely mounted just 23 yards rushing and 19 passing.
"We played a great first half and started out in the third quarter pretty good," coach Stacey Stewart said. "The offense didn't help the defense and that is my fault. The defense was on the field too much."
In speaking of Immokalee, Stewart said, "Every week our opponents get better and better. They have playmakers all over the field."
— Roger LaLonde
MARCO ISLAND ACADEMY
Every Monday seems to be a brighter day.
Each Monday, coach Andy Delgado sees positives from a loss, the latest a 42-6 defeat at the hands of Imagine School of North Port.
"Their coach complimented the team on playing a full game, saying that even at the end we were still lighting them up," Delgado said.
The Manta Rays will work more on their offense as they develop a two-quarterback system. Jared Jackson will be the option quarterback, while Reeves Carlisle will be the pocket quarterback. The quarterbacks and receivers practiced Sunday.
The Manta Rays host Zion Lutheran Christian School of Deerfield Beach on Friday night.
"The team remains positive; they want to win," Delgado said.
— Roger LaLonde
Golden Eagles coach Bill Kramer called his team's play uninspired in the first half Friday against Golden Gate. Though Kramer said his team lacked emotion, Naples won 43-10.
"We played OK," Kramer said. "If you can win by 33 when it's not your best effort, that's a good thing."
Entering Week 5, the Eagles defense had given up just 109 yards the previous two games. Golden Gate gained 227 yards on Naples, including 212 on the ground.
Kramer gave credit to the Titans' offense for moving the ball, but said Naples' defense did well to keep Golden Gate out of the end zone. Stopping the run will be paramount this week as the Eagles host Barron Collier, a team that has thrown the ball just 22 times in five games, in the Class 6A-District 12 opener.
— Adam Fisher
As the minutes wound down on the Bears' 39-20 homecoming non-district loss to Estero on Friday night, a sweat-soaked Palmetto Ridge player pulled off his helmet and talked with first-year coach Ryan Mitchell on the sideline.
"It's the players, Coach," he said. "It's not y'all. You coaches are doing a great job."
After watching his team cough up a 20-19 fourth-quarter lead, Mitchell, whose Bears are 1-4, took personal responsibility for the loss.
The only finger pointing for the Bears is at themselves. That's a good sign.
After singing the school song in front of the band, Mitchell huddled his Bears.With the fervor of an evangelist, Mitchell spoke to his players about their "legacy" and asked the seniors how they were going to finish the season, which continues at home against Golden Gate in the Battle for the Gate after a bye this week.
Mitchell struggled to catch his breath while speaking to reporters after the pep talk.
"We've got to find it and pull it out, one by one, day by day," he said. "That's what we're preaching all the time. We're preaching family and staying together and that's what we've got to do. We're building a program one step at a time."
— Dana Caldwell
ST. JOHN NEUMANN
The Celtics (4-1) will need some help if they hope to win their first district title. Friday's loss to First Baptist dropped Neumann a game behind their in-town rival in the Class 2A-District 6 standings with three games left for each.
Since resurrecting their football program in 2000, the Celtics have qualified for the regional playoffs four times. Each time, including last year, Neumann has qualified as the district runner up.
To win the 2A-6 title and host the team's first playoff game, Neumann needs to win its remaining district games against Moore Haven, Southwest Florida and Evangelical Christian. The Celtics also need First Baptist to lose twice, which seems unlikely considering two of the Lions' remaining district opponents have losing records.
Neumann's offense struggled against a big First Baptist front seven in the 21-7 loss. The Celtics came into the game averaging 43 points and 365 yards a game. They had a season-low 181 yards of offense on Friday, but had limited opportunities and the Lions controlled the clock. Neumann had just four second-half possessions.
— Adam Fisher
SOUTH FORT MYERS
So just how dominant has undefeated South Fort Myers been this season?
Consider the Wolfpack's first halves in the first half of the season.
South has compiled an astonishing 113 to 3 scoring advantage in the first halves through five games. The massive gap includes a 77 to 0 shutout in second quarters.
The Wolfpack reached the midway point of the regular season having rushed for 22 touchdowns, only two shy of their total TDs on the ground for all of last season. Six-foot-one, 215-pound short yardage specialist D'Ronzijah Mathews leads the team with six rushing touchdowns. Speedy Robert Brown, who has 100-plus yard games the past two weeks, has rushed for five touchdowns. Only two scores have come via the pass.
"We wanted to get better at running the football," South coach Grant Redhead said. "We weren't great at it last year; we weren't bad. This year we've made a commitment to it."
South will meet its first opponent with a winning record on Friday when the Wolfpack visit Riverdale (3-2).
"This starts a stretch. Hopefully we've got the bugs worked out," Redhead said. "We just need to bring some intensity. It's just one step at a time. Focus on Riverdale. Don't look past anybody. They're a good ballclub."
— Kevin Johnson