Naples' Brady Webre (34) tries to coax the official into giving the safety signal during Friday's home game against Immokalee. The Golden Eagles had blocked an Indians punt for a safety. GREGG HARDY/CSI
Looking at the final score — 48-17 — of Friday night’s football game at Naples High School between the host Golden Eagles and Immokalee Indians, it might seem like Naples had this one all the way.
Really, though, it was a couple of “special” plays in the second quarter that turned a close game between two proud Collier County football programs (even if one of them is winless) into a rout. And unfortunately for Immokalee’s senior punter/kicker, Jose Lopez, he was on the wrong end of both of them.
With the Indians (0-5) holding a 10-7 lead midway through the second quarter, Naples sophomore C.J. Dietzel burst through the line of scrimmage to block Lopez’s punt deep in Immokalee territory. The ball bounced into and then out of the Indians’ end zone for a safety. Naples regained possession on the ensuing free kick, and a little more than four minutes later, quarterback Drew Wiltsie put the Eagles (3-1) back on top with a 4-yard touchdown run. Chez Mellusi added a two-point conversion to give Naples a 17-10 lead.
The Indians looked as though they would tie Naples or cut into its advantage on their next possession. But the drive into Eagles territory stalled, and coach Rodelin Anthony opted to go for a field goal with only a few seconds to go before halftime.
Instead, Ar’quel Smith darted in to block Lopez’s kick, and D’Andre St. Jean scooped up the loose ball near midfield and raced for the end zone. With the clock reading :00, St. Jean was too fast for Andrew Rene’s diving tackle attempt. He scored, and the extra-point gave Naples a commanding 24-10 lead at the half.
“Oh, that was really big for us,” said Smith, a junior, who revealed that he was thinking block all the way. “We knew we needed something to go into the locker room feeling good about.”
Anthony didn’t regret sending Lopez out for the field goal try.
“My kicker’s phenomenal. He should be a Division I kicker. He can (make) that,” Anthony said.
Less than a minute into the second half, Mellusi burst through the heart of the Immokalee defense, seemingly untouched, and dashed into the end zone on a 66-yard touchdown run.
Naples coach Bill Kramer said the blocked kicks were the byproduct of his squad’s preparation on special teams during practice. That those blocks came at a timely point in Friday’s contest … well, all the better.
“That’s intentional, deliberate,” said Kramer, whose team will visit Palmetto Ridge this Friday in a Class 6A-District 12 battle. “When we can’t do anything else, we’re practicing blocking kicks and scheming for it. Coach (Mike) Sawchuck did a great job scheming it up and got guys free — and Coach (Cliff) Greer on the field goal block. That’s a huge deal at the end of the half with no time left to go scoop and score.”
It had been almost exactly two years since Naples and Immokalee last tangled, when the Golden Eagles won at home, 60-42, on Sept. 23, 2016.
Last year’s contest — a matchup between two eventual state semifinalists that everyone wanted to see — was wiped out, no thanks to Hurricane Irma (You may recall, there was even an idea floated to see if the Eagles and Indians could square off the week after each lost their state semifinal games — you know, championship week.)
And yet, Anthony and Kramer both minimized the relevance of the teams’ meeting — for different reasons.
Said Anthony: “This isn’t a district game. (That will come this Friday when the Indians — who are 0-1 in district after losing to Dunbar on Monday — host an insurgent Cypress Lake squad that’s 3-1 overall and 1-0 in Class 5A’s six-team District 12.) Our job is to get to the playoffs where we (play) teams at are our caliber and our level. At the end of the day, hats off to them. What we’ve got to do is go back to the drawing board and find our strengths and magnify them and protect our weaknesses.”
Said Kramer: “Here’s the deal, and I didn’t know this at first (upon arriving at Naples High in 1998). If they beat us, it makes their season. That is not true for Naples. That’s not a thing for us. But we have to match that intensity.”
Immokalee is the only Collier County team that’s experienced any kind of real success against Naples in the Bill Kramer era. Kramer’s Golden Eagles went 2-7 in his first nine games against the Indians from 1998-2006. Since 2007, however, Naples has won nine of 12, including a regional semifinal victory in ’07, and done so mostly in decisive fashion.
Let’s see what happens next year when the teams meet at Immokalee.
Follow CSI on Twitter at @239CSI or like CSI on Facebook at facebook.com/CollierSportsInsider. Email Gregg Hardy at email@example.com.