Tyler Cavaliere, left, and Rich Mellien (7) are shown after they connected on a 61-yard touchdown pass during the first quarter of Friday's 47-14 home win over Community School of Naples. GREGG HARDY/CSI
The second half of the 2019 high school football season is almost upon us.
Note to First Baptist Academy opponents: You better step up your conditioning. It looks like the Lions offense is just as dangerous on broken plays.
Much of the talk surrounding FBA’s 4-0 start has revolved around freshman quarterback Rich Mellien and his ability to make plays with both his arm and legs. So far, Mellien has thrown for 517 yards and 10 touchdowns (against just two interceptions) and rushed for a team-high 457 yards and seven touchdowns.
But during Friday’s 47-14 home win over Community School of Naples, junior Tyler Cavaliere showed that Lions receivers are learning to adjust when Mellien is on the run.
Just look at FBA’s first touchdown against the Seahawks.
After dropping a low snap and scrambling to his left, Mellien went full-on DeShaun Watson against several Seahawks defenders. First, he escaped the grasp of imposing defensive lineman Damon Donalds; then he dodged two other would-be tacklers before sprinting to his right and finding Cavaliere all by his lonesome. Cavaliere took it from there, outrunning a CSN defensive back down the right side for the touchdown. (By the way, Cavaliere caught three passes on the night — all touchdowns.)
“Rich is a stud, but that play really represents our whole team — just the chemistry we’ve built and knowing where everybody’s at,” said Cavaliere, the Lions’ leading receiver. “That’s why we’re here today … 4-0.”
Lions coach Bill Sparacio called that first Mellien-to-Cavaliere touchdown “awesome” and said, “Maybe a week or two ago, we would’ve watched and hoped that (Mellien) broke a few more tackles and ran for the first down.
Sparacio added: “Great players extend plays. When you can extend plays in high school, the way Rich can, it always gives you a chance. … What I’m thrilled about is that (other) kids are starting to finish the play as well, and not just watch. So when they see (Mellien) doing his thing and then escape, they’re scooting down the field trying to get open and make a play (and) not just watching what’s going on — ‘Hey, let’s watch the fast kid make a play.’ They’re trying to be a part of it and getting themselves involved.”
Maybe fear is a strong word (or maybe not), but FBA’s passing game has certainly been one for opposing defenses to respect. The Lions’ top three pass-catchers — Cavaliere (eight catches, 200 yards, four touchdowns), junior Colby Gonzalez (5/153/4) and freshman Olsen Henry (5/110/1) — are averaging between 22 and 30 yards per catch. Freshman Donovan Sealy (4/53/1) also has to be watched by defenses.
Gonzalez, who has shown he can run or pass the ball when called upon, also enjoyed a big night against Community School. He caught Mellien’s other two touchdown passes.
“I think the strength of the team is the team,” Sparacio said. “The chemistry on this team is phenomenal. It really is. For a young group of kids, man, they’re playing really hard together. They practice well together. They just get along really well. It’s a great group. It’s a joy to coach them.”
Mellien wasn’t the only player on the field last Friday wowing those in attendance with jaw-dropping plays. Community School junior Lovenson Xavier (a name you’ll no doubt hear when Community School’s basketball team laces them up this winter) did so as he accounted for both Seahawks touchdowns.
First, Xavier outran the FBA defense on a 62-yard jaunt in the closing seconds of the first quarter; then, just as time expired in the first half, he sliced through and torched the Lions’ special teams unit on an 82-yard kickoff return.
It’s been a tough, injury-plagued start to the season for the Seahawks (1-3), who are in a bit of a rebuilding phase after a 4-6 campaign in 2018.
“We fought hard all four quarters (against FBA) … never let up,” said Selvidio, who guided CSN to consecutive 10-win campaigns while going 34-9 in his first four seasons from 2014-17. “We just made a couple too many mistakes, (giving them) too many extra possessions with the turnovers, and that’s the difference in the ballgame.”
Said Xavier: “We’re keeping our heads up even though we lost. We’ll get better.”
Follow CSI on Twitter at @239CSI or like CSI on Facebook at facebook.com/CollierSportsInsider. Email Gregg Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org.