Landon Reed ran through the St. John Neumann defense several times en route to Community School's 28-16 road win Friday night. GLENN CHRISTOPHER/SPECIAL TO CSI
Since the start of the 2017 season, only Naples High School is ahead of St. John Neumann for the best record amongst Collier County’s 11 public and private football programs.
The Celtics have amassed a 29-8 mark on the gridiron over that time, and, in the process, they’ve gone 3-0 against their arch-rivals, the Community School of Naples Seahawks. (Naples High, for the record, is 35-6 since 2017.)
On Friday night, a determined Seahawks bunch dealt the Celtics a tall glass of “So what?!” They continued their stunning turnaround from a 1-8 record in 2019 and improved to 6-0 with a 28-16 win at Neumann (2-2).
Powered this season by a backfield that could be dubbed “Thunder and Lightning,” the Seahawks scored all four of their touchdowns on the ground Friday — two each by Lovenson Xavier (Lightning) and Landon Reed (Thunder). In reality, though, it was Xavier who provided the thunder as he banged home a pair of 2-yard touchdown runs while Reed scored on two electrifying runs of 35 and 30 yards, respectively.
This victory may well have cemented CSN as a true postseason threat in 2020. The Seahawks’ first five wins this season came against teams with a combined record of 4-21. (It’ll get tougher from here on out in CSN’s final two games. They visit 4-1 Canterbury School this Friday before finishing the regular season at home against 3-1 First Baptist Academy on Oct. 30.)
Community School coach Paul Selvidio didn’t want his guys leaving St. John Neumann Catholic High School feeling too good about their performance.
“We’re a lot better than what we showed tonight,” Selvidio said. “We came out on top (but) we made too many mistakes. We’ve got a lot of things that we need to clean up. It was an emotional game for some of these kids. We lose our poise in moments; we lose our focus … you know, played a sloppy second half. That’s what young teams do sometimes — they get a little bit overzealous, too excited. That’s our job as a coaching staff to fix that.”
Neumann coach Damon Jones was highly impressed with the Seahawks.
“You know, that’s a good CSN team,” said Jones, who was the first-ever head coach in CSN football history, starting the Seahawks program back in 2010. “They’ve got nice seniors — that’s a big senior class they’ve got. … We’re playing a lot of younger guys. I told (my players), we’ve just got to control what we can control, and that’s lining up right, doing our assignment, getting to the football, tackling and coming off the ball. The first half, we didn’t do that. We made some big mistakes — the two turnovers late in the first half in our own territory that gave them two short-field touchdowns.”
Selvidio said early this summer he knew he had a team that was just itching to announce its presence with authority.
“When we got together on June 1, I knew this team was really good,” said Selvidio, whose team has also undoubtedly had positive vibes playing in its brand spanking new John N. Allen Family Stadium. “I raised our expectations the first week in practice, and it was pretty much after the ECS game (a 35-0 home win) … I told them after the game that I expect A LOT from them because they showed they had that potential, and it’s our job to draw all that potential out of them.
“This is a pretty determined group; they’re a confident group; they’re an excitable group, but above all, they’re talented. We’ve just got to harness that talent, harness that excitement and channel it and focus it in the right direction.”
Friday’s win was extra sweet for Cooper Chur, who recalled a 27-13 home loss to Neumann three years ago — his freshman season — that snapped CSN’s four-game winning streak against the Celtics. In that 2017 contest, the Seahawks held on to a 13-12 lead from the first quarter until the fourth — that’s when the Celtics scored 15 unanswered points to win the game. Chur’s older brother, Tyson, was a senior on that Seahawks squad.
“The road’s been pretty tough the last three years (against SJN),” said Chur, a 6-foot, 190-pound defensive end who will also spell starting quarterback Cael Persch when needed. “(Friday’s win) is kind of like avenging that loss back in the day that was so heartbreaking. It feels really good.
“This is the rivalry. We’ve got FBA, too — the Battle of Livingston (Road) — but Neumann is a big rivalry … (against) our old head coach. It’s a battle.”
Asked to explain CSN’s about-face from 2019, Chur said, “Culture change. We have a lot of seniors; we have a lot of good leaders. We just have a strong brotherhood — it’s awesome. We were just able to click and come together.”
As for Neumann, Friday’s first half was not representative of the Celtics team we’ve seen the last several years. The second half, though? Different story.
Trailing 21-0 at halftime, the Celtics outscored the Seahawks 16-7 over the final two quarters, including a highly efficient touchdown drive to start the half, capped by quarterback Mike Joyce’s 1-yard plunge. After Reed’s second touchdown put CSN up 28-7, Joyce had another short TD run to make it 28-14. The Celtics recovered a Seahawks fumble in the end zone to account for the game’s final margin.
Early in the fourth quarter, Neumann had a chance to pull within seven of Community School after recovering a Seahawks fumble that was caused by a well-placed Daniel DeSantis hit. (A senior captain, DeSantis also had a great catch-and-run to spark the Celtics in the third quarter.)
“That second half was Celtic football all the way,” Jones said. “Their tenacity and effort, and the sideline was great; the fans we had here in this limited capacity (due to COVID restrictions) was great. It was a fun game. That’s why rivalry games are fun. That’s what they’re about.
“That drive to start the second half was a thing of beauty. I couldn’t be prouder of what (my players) were able to accomplish.”
Last year, Jones and his players had an identical 2-2 record before rattling off six straight wins to close out the regular season. It could be a little tougher this year for the Celtics, who have significantly less experience and roster depth than the 2019 squad. Joyce, in particular, is carrying a heavier load than he did last season, as he’s being asked to play on both sides of the ball.
“This is a unique group,” Jones said. “We’re thin, and we’ve lost some guys, and we’ve got a lot of young guys playing, but control what you can control.
“We’ve still got to find what we can do. There’s certain things we do really well. We’ve got to try to be a little more balanced offensively. Mike’s having to play both ways this year; starting at linebacker, he’s having to play 140 snaps a game, and that makes it tough. Ask him to run the ball 25 times a game, he’s a warrior.”
Jones continued: “As these younger guys get more game experience and more time, they’re only going to get better.”
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