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Marco Island Academy entered its district match-up at once-beaten Community School minus the team’s top three running backs.

The academy’s quarterback, who leads the area in passing, was noticeably hobbled by a back injury. The odds seemed stacked against them.

But to their credit, Greg Fowler’s charges played four hard quarters of football and put 37 points on the scoreboard. The problem was that they couldn’t stop Community School’s potent offense that countered every Rays score with one or two of their own, finishing with 69.

“We did some good things,” academy head coach Greg Fowler said. “We scored 37 points. We moved the ball well. We didn’t have one starting running back in there tonight. Patrick Michel is still injured, Cayden Couture’s out for at least another week and we didn’t have Tyler Gresham. We don’t make excuses. We just go play the game. I thought the kids who did play tonight played hard. That’s all you can ask. We’re down to 20-something kids and we keep fighting.”

Community School scored early and often, finding the end zone during the first minute of the game. By the end of the first quarter the Rays were down 20-6.

As the first half wore on, it looked like the second half may end up being played with a running clock. High school games go to a running clock in the second half when there is a 35-point spread between the teams.

But the Rays did enough on offense to avoid the running clock. In the first quarter it was an 11-yard Andrew Fowler-to-Tyler Wallace touchdown pass. In the second quarter running back Austin Gross scored on a nine-yard run. At halftime the Rays were down 41-13.

The Rays came out the second half and made an impressive drive, capped by a 34-yard Fowler-to-Wallace TD pass. They then stopped Community School and scored again on a 43-yard connection between Fowler and Wallace. Suddenly the Rays had cut the lead to 41-27.

But within two minutes Community School had answered back with a 46-yard touchdown run by quarterback Cooper Weiss.

Academy kicker Colin McMullen converted a 20-yard field goal and Andrew Fowler connected with Brian Flynn for a 12-yard touchdown to complete the Rays scoring.

The Rays were playing without Patrick Michel, one of the area’s leading rushers, who was injured in last week’s game. Tyler Gresham, a starting running back who is one of the area's leading receivers, also missed the game. Cayden Couture, another top back for the Rays, was also sidelined.

Gross, who is making the most of his opportunities, rushed for 116 yards on 17 carries. Wallace finished with seven catches for 150 yards and three touchdowns. Andrew Fowler connected on 25 of 42 passes for 354 yards and four touchdowns. Flynn had 75 yards receiving and Vinny Moller totaled 71 yards receiving and 21 yards rushing.

“I can’t say enough about how hard these kids fought shorthanded,” Greg Fowler said. “Guys were playing out of position. Great effort, that’s all I can say. Great effort.”

The academy fall to 2-6 while Community School improves to 7-1. The Rays host Evangelical Christian (2-6) Friday at 7 p.m.

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