Marco Academy Rays hold their own against St. John Neumann, but finally fall 42-24

Scott H. Shook

The Marco Island Academy football team went toe-to-toe with St. John Neumann for more than three quarters Friday night at Winterberry Field. But the more experienced Celtics broke the game open in the final seven minutes to earn a 42-24 win that was a lot closer than the score indicates.

After the game, head coach Greg Fowler implored his team to fight to the end in games like this.

"I was as proud as I could be for three quarters and about seven minutes," Fowler told his team, "you played played your butts off. It was a three-point game. You had 'em on the ropes. You were up with seven minutes to go."

After trailing 9-0 early in the game, the Rays trimmed the lead to 9-7 with 6:27 left in the first quarter when quarterback Andrew Fowler threw a backwards pass to wide receiver Cole Stretton who then threw a forward pass to Patrick Michel who sprinted into the end zone for a 76-yard touchdown. Anton Mertens made the extra point kick.

St. Neumann added another touchdown with 4:22 left in the half to take a 15-7 lead into halftime.

After Jessica Ragan was crowned homecoming queen, the Rays had some unusual luck to open the second half.

Neumann tried an onside kick that was recovered by the Rays' Brian Flynn at the 50-yard line. The Rays then marched right down field and scored on a 44-yard run by speedster Cayden Couture. Mertens kick trimmed Neumann's lead to 15-14.

On the next play the Rays successfully executed an onside kick of their own when Tyler pounced on the bounding ball at the 49 and turned it into a 30-yard field goal by Mertens to take the lead, 17-15, with 6:55 left in the third quarter.

Neumann answered by with an 11-yard touchdown run by Ray Perry, who scored three times in the game. This time Cesar Lora's extra point kick was good, and Neumann led 22-17 with 2:30 left in the third quarter.

The Rays had a little more magic left when Fowler connected with Stretton for an 18-yard touchdown with 11:04 left in the game to take their final lead of the game, 24-22.

After a defensive stop the Rays had the ball with fourth and one to go with just over nine minutes to go. The Rays appeared ready to go for it when they were called for delay of game and penalized five yards.

"We were just trying to draw them offsides," coach Fowler said. "Maybe we should have gone for it there. I think most coaches would have punted in that situation."

After the Rays punted, the momentum of the game seemed to swing in Neumann's favor. The Celtics scored three touchdowns in the game's final seven minutes to turn the game into a route.

"They didn't get through the line one time all night," Greg Fowler told his team after the game. "Then on the last series they hit on every play. You've got to learn to keep battling. The score of this game was 67-0 last year. This game you were up with seven minutes to go. I'm not upset. I'm just asking you to dig deeper when things get tough."

Next game

The 2-4 Rays travel to Evangelical Christian, 4-3, on Friday. Neumann improves to 3-5 with the win