Dario Araya launches himself into the end zone, giving First Baptist a 21-0 first-quarter lead in Friday night's game at Community School of Naples. GREGG HARDY/CSI
First Baptist Academy’s football players may have only needed a paper airplane (and a strong southward wind gust along Livingston Road) to get their message to Community School of Naples on Friday night.
The Lions, however, thought the message — that they were the better team, not the undefeated Seahawks — was best delivered in person.
And if these two teams should meet again in the Class 3A regionals, the 42-7 beatdown FBA administered to CSN (continuing its dominance in this Battle of Livingston rivalry) could weigh heavily on the Seahawks’ minds.
“There always is (a curiosity factor) with a big rivalry game,” said Lions senior Ty Cavaliere, whose 34-yard touchdown hookup with Rich Mellien at the 4:41 mark of the third quarter all but ended any thoughts of a second-half Seahawks comeback. “We’re like fifty yards away (from their campus), so we wanted to prove a point. They were talking a lot before, so we just let our pads do the talking. We came out and got the job done.”
The curiosity factor surrounding Friday’s game stemmed from the Seahawks’ stunning turnaround after last year’s 1-8 record. Armed with a new quarterback in Cael Persch and a lethal rushing attack spearheaded by Lovenson Xavier and Landon Reed, it remained to be seen if CSN could break through against the almost perennially stout FBA boys.
Instead, the Lions improved to 6-0 all-time against the Seahawks.
“I think the kids were focused because they know it’s a big crosstown rival and they know a lot of kids (at CSN),” said FBA coach Billy Sparacio, whose team’s only loss this season came in Week 2 at Georgia powerhouse Fellowship Christian (8-0). “We were focused like we were any game, but this is a little different because of the rivalry. I don’t know if it had anything to do with them having a good record or not … .”
After taking the mile-long bus ride down Livingston Road to CSN’s brand-new stadium, First Baptist (6-1) wasted little time imposing its will on Community School (7-1). It took the Lions a mere 45 seconds and just three plays to score their first touchdown. They added two more TDs, capped by Dario Araya’s 23-yard scoop-and-score fumble recovery, to finish out the first quarter with a 21-0 lead.
CSN tried to make things interesting in the early stages of the second quarter after an interception and lengthy runback by Hunter Baker. On a fourth-and-goal play, Cooper Chur — who took over for Persch — denied Cooper Dearborn a third sack on the night and found Avery Brown for a hard-fought TD strike.
But that was it for the Seahawks.
“We knew they were going to be a tough team,” said CSN senior fullback/defensive tackle Jacob Allen, who knows FBA’s football program quite well having played his freshman and sophomore seasons with the Lions. “Coming into this, we were not going in cocky or anything like that. … We went out there and made stupid mistakes. We shot ourselves in the foot when we shouldn’t have, and those mistakes they (capitalized) on. We just need to do better at not making those mistakes.”
The Seahawks are idle this week, giving themselves a couple weeks to lick their wounds and prepare for a Nov. 13 playoff game at Southwest Florida Christian (which the Seahawks handled 49-20 in the season opener).
Asked if he thought the Seahawks would cast aside their latest setback to FBA as if it never happened and regain the mojo they had over their first seven games of the season, Allen said, “No sir. There’s a lot of things to clean up. And this type of game, we’re going to dissect and go through film. We’ve got a great coaching staff that is able to do that. We’re going to clean up our mistakes. We’re going to come back and we’re going to be better. This isn’t the end for us.
“I believe that this is going to be a lesson for us … that we’re going to take off from it. You can’t cancel out a game like this. You’ve got to learn from it.”
A year ago at this time, FBA had just put the finishing touches on a 10-0 regular season. The Lions, however, were stunned at home in their playoff opener, losing 50-29 to a Moore Haven team they had just beaten a couple weeks earlier.
From a scoring standpoint, the 2019 and 2020 Lions have largely been carried by Mellien. (He’s just a sophomore — scary.) Besides throwing all 17 of FBA’s touchdown passes last year, Mellien accounted for half of the Lions’ rushing scores — 10 of 20. This year, Mellien has eight of FBA’s nine touchdown passes and eight of the Lions’ 14 rushing scores.)
That said, Sparacio believes FBA’s offense is a much more potent unit this year. Cavaliere, Olsen Henry, Colby Gonzalez, Tyler Coleman … “all those kids want to get a touch,” Sparacio said. (Henry had two TD catches Friday and now has six on the season, along with an eye-popping 28.8 yards-per-catch average.)
A gritty 9-6 comeback win at Glades Day on Oct. 16 has had a carryover affect on those other Lions playmakers, Sparacio said. Trailing 6-2 and playing the entire game without an ailing Mellien, FBA drove half the field in the game’s final minute and won thanks to Coleman’s 5-yard touchdown run.
“Obviously, Rich is a great athlete — exceptional, but I think there are other kids who now want to be the guy, too,” Sparacio said. “They know they’re good athletes, and they just want the ball … and that’s hard sometimes to distribute it, but they all want to make a play. As a play caller, you want that.
“I think that’s what that (Glades Day) game brought out. They all knew that they were (being) depended on because Rich wasn’t there. And Rich is still going to make his plays because he touches it every play, but those kids want a piece too, and now they’ve got some confidence because they had to do it on their own.”
This Friday, the Lions will conclude their regular-season schedule against Orlando’s West Oaks Academy (2-6). The game will also mark FBA’s second annual Salute to Service honoring local first responders and retired and active military.
Then, it’s on to the playoffs. The Lions will host a Nov. 13 home game against the winner of Friday’s play-in contest between Glades Day and Champagnat Catholic.
With the postseason fast approaching, Cavaliere was asked to rate the Lions’ confidence level on a scale of one to 10.
“I’m gonna say nine because you can always get better,” he said. “But we feel good right now. It’s been a great season.
“We have the best coaches in the state preparing us every day. We come and work every day; we enjoy working every day.”
Editor’s note: Please support CSI’s advertisers; we cannot exist without their support. Follow CSI on social media: @239CSI (Twitter); facebook.com/CollierSportsInsider (Facebook; @colliersportsinsider (Instagram). Email Gregg Hardy at email@example.com.