Academy shakes off rust in preseason tune-up
There were plenty of positives in Marco Island Academy's 26-21 loss to Gateway Charter at Winterberry Field.
In fact, head coach Greg Fowler wasn't concerned about the final score. Instead, he chose to focus on the good things he saw from his squad as he enters his second year at the helm.
Fowler played his freshman the first quarter of the game, then turned things over to the varsity.
"The varsity played from the second quarter on," Fowler said. "We had everybody in there except for a couple of linemen who are coming off of injury. I didn't want to take a chance of them being injured in a preseason game.
"We had quite a few guys do some good things," the coach said. "Tyler Gresham did some great stuff. He had over 100 yards rushing and made four tackles for loss."
Brian Flynn, who started as an undersized linebacker last fall, had a breakout game on both sides of the ball against Gateway.
"Brian Flynn is the one who really stood out the most to me," Fowler said. "He was kind of out of position at linebacker last year. He didn't play much offense. He was kind of a utility player for us last year."
Fowler plans go give Flynn a more prominent role this season.
"He played wide receiver and had two catches for 50 yards," Fowler said. "He also led the team in tackles and had a fumble recovery. He was all over the field for us. He's the one who impressed me the most. He's a real smart kid. He got a 32 on the ACT test, so he's a brilliant kid. So he is able to pick up everything we're doing. We're looking for him to play a more prominent role on offense this year. On defense he's a safety and he makes all the calls as far as coverages go. So he's got a bigger role. The way he stepped up was impressive."
Gateway took a 6-0 lead into halftime. The park's lightning detector sounded during the final play of the first half. After the delay, the academy returned with more offensive firepower.
Fowler blames himself for the team's lackluster play on offense in the first half.
"It's probably my fault," Fowler said. "I really didn't want to show too much since this was just a preseason game. But we decided to open it up more in the second half."
The academy worked its way to a 14-6 lead in the third quarter on a 26-yard touchdown run by Caden Couture and three-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Fowler to Tyler Wallace. Colin McMullen converted both point-after kicks.
Wallace finished with six catches for 44 yards.
Fowler, the coach's son, had a solid game at quarterback, despite throwing two interceptions. Fowler was one of the area's leading passers last season as a sophomore.
"Andrew had a couple of turnovers tonight," Fowler said, "but he's moving better in the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield. I think he tried to force some things. But he's making the progress I want him to make. He really just needs to get the ball into the playmakers' hands and try to limit the turnovers. If he does that for us we're going to be a very successful team."
Gateway scored twice in the fourth quarter in a 76-second span when they connected on a 44-yard touchdown pass, then returned an interception for a score to take a 26-14 lead.
The academy responded with an 11-yard touchdown run by Patrick Michel and extra point by McMullen to conclude the game's scoring.
Fowler came into the season expecting his offensive line to be the strength of the team. But he likes what he's seeing from his defense.
"I've always said it's the offensive line," the coach said. "Of course we had a couple of linemen out tonight. When our offensive line's at full strength our running game will be a big plus for us. But after Friday night, I'd have to say our defense is impressive. It looks like our defense will be the backbone of the team this year. Which is what we need. Because last year that's where we were hurt the most."