Late in the third quarter of Friday's game at Cape Coral, it seemed like Lely was on the way to its 17th loss in the past 19 games.
Special teams errors and defensive lapses caused the Trojans to squander a halftime lead at Cape Coral, a playoff team last season. Lely saw its 11-point advantage turned into an 11-point deficit in just nine minutes of the third quarter.
For the Lely of old, the game might have been over. First-year coach Stacey Stewart, who's worked improving his team's mental toughness, made sure the Trojans weren't done.
"I called a timeout said, 'It doesn't matter the circumstances. We determine our attitude and how we finish,'" Stewart said. "They decided they wanted to finish strong."
Lely fought back and won 23-22 on a Sergio Alfaro field goal with four minutes left. Instead of lamenting another loss, the Trojans are 2-1.
With back-to-back wins the past two weeks, Lely is one of the surprise teams in the area. The Trojans already have won more games than last season (1-9) and tied their total from 2010 (2-8).
The difference is attitude. Stewart wants his players to expect to win and play with confidence. So far the coach is rubbing off on his players.
"Even though it seemed like all hope was gone, the whole team kept fighting," senior defensive lineman Claudel Alix said. "We know we're not going to stop until the clock hits triple zeros. Coach wants us to finish strong, that's our mindset."
Just three years ago, the Trojans were 6-4 and barely missed the playoffs. In 2010, Lely started 2-2, but lost its final six games. The Trojans won a game early in 2011 but lost their final seven games of the season.
To avoid another collapse, especially after such a promising start, Lely will rely on the teamwork and chemistry that has aided their turnaround early this season.
"We're all about team," said Alix, who was suspended the last six games of 2011 due to his actions in a game. "We didn't have that team unity before. We've been through a lot. Now we're working together and focusing on our goal of becoming the best we can be."
While their bonds on the sideline have strengthened the team, the Trojans have been led on the field by their defense.
When Stewart, a 1987 Lely graduate, returned home to take over the Trojans, his first priority was improving the defense. Stewart had spent the past eight years as an assistant at Camden County (Ga.) High School, where the Wildcats won two state titles in his tenure behind their signature defense.
There was plenty of work to do — Lely gave up more than 35 points a game last season. Stewart started by putting his best 11 players on defense, which included moving last year's starting quarterback, Karbiel Dirogene, to linebacker.
"Our main focus is defense, no matter what," senior defense lineman Leroy Greenidge said. "The offense will come, but every day in practice we emphasize defense. (Stewart) raises the bar for us each day."
The improved defense has allowed 15 points a game through three weeks of the season. The Trojans earned their first shutout in three years with a 33-0 win over Cypress Lake in Week 2. After falling behind 20-0 to Riverdale in the first half of the season-opener, Lely has given up two touchdowns to opposing offenses the past 10 quarters.
Playing in a three-team district, Lely likely can end its four-year playoff drought with a win over either Class 5A-District 12 opponents Golden Gate or Immokalee.
That's the long-term goal. For now the Trojans are focused on getting better and proving themselves each week.
"We're not that team from last year," Greenidge said. "Every day in practice we want to prove to people that we're not a mess-around team. We're here to win."