Notes on area football teams:
When it comes to their run-first, throw-rarely offense, the Cougars use a line from the movie "Remember The Titans" to describe its effectiveness.
"When you run the veer, it's like Novocain," coach Dan Pallante said, paraphrasing a quote from the movie. "If you give it time, it always works."
By now every team in Southwest Florida knows Barron Collier's game plan — run, run, run. The Cougars have thrown the ball just 28 times in eight games. Yet opposing defenses can't stop Barron's option attack even though they know what's coming.
The Cougars were at it again Friday rushing for 245 yards on 60 carries at Immokalee. The biggest gains came late in the fourth quarter when Barron Collier had the ball and was protecting a 12-9 lead.
With less than three minutes left, the Cougars converted back-to-back fourth downs thanks to runs by Jake Berman. Immokalee eventually stopped Barron on fourth down at the Indians' 20-yard line, but just 13 seconds remained and the Indians were out of timeouts.
— Adam Fisher
When he is fully healthy, Community School junior Dan Paul is one of the most effective pass-catching tight ends in the county, especially inside the red zone with the pressure on.
After being used sparingly in the two weeks before the Seahawks' narrow 13-12 win over Highlands Christian, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Paul keyed the come-from-behind rally with three catches in crunch time, including the go-ahead touchdown reception from four yards out with 1:18 left in the game.
Paul finished the game with 69 yards and two scores, pushing his season total to 240 yards receiving despite playing only three full games where he had more than one catch.
— Scott Butherus
Just when teams think they have Eric McFadden boxed in with no place to go, the Estero senior running back somehow finds a way to escape.
That scenario played out during McFadden's second of three touchdown runs in last week's 49-0 win against Cypress Lake. McFadden emerged from a swarm of Panthers along the Estero sideline and outran his frustrated pursuers as he sprinted diagonally across the field and into the end zone.
"I'm always looking for a hole — left or right — wherever it's at. I'm going to make a move and that's just the way I've always been since I was younger," said McFadden, who surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second straight season.
McFadden has scored at least three touchdowns in a game three times this season. His 14 touchdowns places him in a tie for third among scoring leaders in Class 5A, according to statistics on maxpreps.com.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound McFadden wants to play college football. He said Lafayette continues to follow him and FAU has shown some interest.
But his focus right now is helping Estero try to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2001. With two district games remaining, the Wildcats are in a three-way tie for second place in 5A-11 with Cape Coral and Lehigh. Estero holds the head-to-head advantage against Cape and has yet to meet Lehigh.
"We've been working hard in practice. We haven't given up one bit on trying to get that playoff spot," McFadden said.
— Kevin Johnson
In just their fourth season, the Lions can clinch their first district title Friday with a victory at Sarasota-Out-of-Door. Despite the big implications, coach Billy Sparacio doesn't expect this week of practice to be any different from the first seven weeks of the season.
"What (a victory) means to us is just another win in our district," Sparacio said. "We're trying to drive the point home that it's one more week, one more game. We've still got another district game after that."
Friday could be a momentous night for the young program, but the Lions aren't about to mess with success. First Baptist has built a 7-0 record by approaching every week and every opponent the same and sticking to a rigid work schedule.
"Sometimes we as coaches wonder if it's monotonous, but the beauty of the plan is the kids always know what to expect," Sparacio said. "They could probably go outside and do our practice from memory because it's what we do each and every week."
If the Lions beat ODA, the worst they can finish in Class 2A-District 6 is 6-1 and tied with Moore Haven. First Baptist beat Moore Haven in Week 1 and would win the title in a tiebreaker. A victory also sets a school record for wins. The Lions went 7-3 last season.
— Adam Fisher
On a night filled with gutsy goal-line stands, the best may have come on the game's final play.
After a drive led by Lely quarterback Karbiel Dirogene brought team inside the 20 with his team trailing the Titans 10-5 in the waning minute of the fourth quarter, Dirogene connected with receiver Williamson George on a screen pass as the final seconds ticked off. His sliver of daylight — and victory — was snuffed out by Golden Gate defenders R.C. Cange and Kody Chapman, who brought George down on the 2-yard line and preserve a Titans win.
"I was like 'I've got to stop him,'" Cange said. "I didn't care if he catches that ball but I just could not let him get into the end zone. I had some help from my safety. We stopped him and I was just happy."
It was also enough to get Titans coach Mike DiGrigoli's heart pounding a little.
"It's been our trademark," DiGrigoli said. "It was tense situation. But when you put yourself in those tense situations you've got to battle out. Beautiful thing is, we were able to come out on top."
— Scott Butherus
First-year Sharks coach Pete Fominaya isn't thrilled with his team's 2-5 record after losing 34-13 to Port Charlotte on Friday. However, he had to be please with his players' effort, not just against the Pirates, but in every game this season.
The Sharks defense played inspired football on Friday with players flinging their bodies at Pirates ball carriers until the muggy weather, and the Port Charlotte speed became too overwhelming late in the contest.
"We have a bunch of kids that are giving everything they have," Fominaya said. "We just need to take the next step as a program. Part of winning a football game is believing you can do it. That's where we have to get this program.
"Football is played 11 on 11. It's about imposing your will. We have to impose our will on somebody."
If the Sharks are to impose their will on an opponent, it will have to come on the road. Gulf Coast has three games remaining, none at home. Gulf Coast travels to Golden Gate on Friday.
— Scott Clair
The bye week couldn't have come at a better time for Immokalee. The Indians need the week off to recover from a string of injuries before what amounts to a district championship game Nov. 2.
Immokalee (5-3) has been banged up for a few weeks now. With a small roster of only about 30 players, many Indians are forced to play both ways and don't have much time to fully rest their injuries.
One key injury is to starting quarterback Tshumbi Johnson. The senior missed the game against Cape Coral in Week 7 with a sprained throwing shoulder. He started Friday against Barron Collier but left the game after the first two series and did not attempt a pass.
"If it had been a district game, he would have played more," Immokalee coach Jerrod Ackley said. "He wasn't 100 percent healthy yet. We didn't want to risk him reinjuring (the shoulder) because in two weeks we have our most important game."
Starting center Kerby Henry will also return to action after missing time with an elbow injury. After the bye week Immokalee plays at Golden Gate. Both teams are 1-0 in the three-team Class 5A-District 12, so the winner will be the champion and host a first-round playoff game.
— Adam Fisher
While extremely disappointed in its loss to Golden Gate on Friday night that left them out of the playoffs again — none of the Lely seniors ever got to play a playoff game — coach Stacey Stewart did find positives.
"I felt like our O (offensive) line and running backs really had a good game and it translated into sustained drives," he said. "We turned the ball over at crucial times that hurt our scoring opportunities."
He was extremely proud of his players fought, nearly pulling out a victory in the waning moments of the game in the 10-5 loss."
'We continue our mission to be the best we can be," he said. We are learning that football is more than wins and losses. It teaches us hard work, commitment, sacrifice and team work. All these qualities will help us be better on and off the field."
Lely (2-6) travels to Palmetto Ridge (1-6), which lost to Naples, 64-7, on Friday night.
Stewart said Palmetto Ridge is very athletic and will be a tough opponent. "They have some extremely talented and physical players," he said.
— Roger LaLonde
MARCO ISLAND ACADEMY
Manta Rays coach Andy Delgado saw his team play its best offensive game, but he said special teams cost them the game in a 56-26 loss to Miami-Northwest Christian.
"We gave up three scores due to special teams," he said. "They also wore us down at the end."
Delgado praised his offensive line: Preston Reese, Thomas Nugent, Marcus Seined, Omar Rodriguez, Gordon Roth, Irving Cerventes and Andy Delgado Jr.
"Because of them we had our best running and passing game this season," he said. "Jared Jackson also was outstanding. He had four solo tackles in the first half and scored all four of our touchdowns."
Marco Island Academy plays Gateway Charter School on the road Friday.
— Roger LaLonde
With district play done and a home playoff opener secured, Naples can look ahead to finishing its final three games and finishing undefeated in the regular season.
The Golden Eagles (7-0) figure to be heavy favorites in their next two — home against North Miami Beach (3-4) and at Lely (2-6) — before hosting Venice in the season finale. Venice owns a 5-3 record, but the Indians put up 27 points Friday against Manatee, the consensus top-ranked team in the nation.
"Venice will knock the teeth out of your head," Naples coach Bill Kramer said after Friday's 64-7 blowout of Palmetto Ridge. "We can't rest, and that's good. We're guaranteed a home playoff game, and hopefully we can stay healthy and stay focused and go win a state championship."
— Jacob Carpenter
For 59 minutes and 50 seconds, Palmetto Ridge had been dominated Friday by Naples. The Bears had been outgained 390 to 32, gained just three first downs, and didn't have a play longer than six yards.
Then, in the waning moments, backup quarterback Andy Garcia heaved a pass down the sideline to senior Javion Morgan. With a cornerback in tight coverage, Morgan leapt, came down with the pass near midfield, broke free and sprinted into the end zone for a 68-yard score.
The play epitomized the positives coach Ryan Mitchell saw in his team's second-half performance. After entering halftime down 55-0, the Bears held strong against Naples, only being outscored 9-7 (though a running clock sped up the half).
"We're laying a foundation here and starting over from scratch," said Mitchell, a first-year coach. "We've got to take some of the momentum we had in the last couple of series and carry it over to next week."
— Jacob Carpenter
ST. JOHN NEUMANN
There's only one cure for a Southwest Florida football team who recently suffered a devastating loss. The cure is beach therapy.
Celtics coach Steve Howey announced he will take his team to the beach on Tuesday to help restore the team's mentality after they suffered a 35-21 loss to Moore Haven on Friday.
"I feel bad," said Howey. "I really wanted them to make the playoffs. It's unfortunate that we've got two other really good teams in our district this year."
Howey said his team is still looking to end on a positive note. If St. John Neumann (5-3) wins its next two games the team will achieve its highest win total since the 2007 season.
— Ryan Toohey
SOUTH FORT MYERS
After missing the win against Fort Myers because of a head injury suffered the previous week, South Fort Myers senior quarterback Andrew Dailidonis was back behind center for the Wolfpack in Friday's Class 6A-District 11 home showdown against Cape Coral-Island Coast.
South coach Grant Redhead liked the Wolfpack's odds for two particular reasons: He thought the Wolfpack would wear down the Gators, which they did, and Dailidonis' return would make South less predictable.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder passed just a dozen times during Friday's 41-17 win to move South (8-0) to 5-0 in the district, but he completed nine of those attempts for an efficient 63 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
"He managed the game well," Redhead said. "He was good. I thought he might be a little rusty, but he did a good job. The running game was strong, and that helped."
South rushed 41 times for 320 yards.
The Wolfpack hop out of district play this Friday night, when they play Charlotte. South finishes the regular season at one-loss district foe Cape Coral-Ida Baker.
— Dana Caldwell