Sophomore Kendrick Raphael (6) had a monster night, recording 185 yards, as Naples beat Lely, 16-6, in the 47th annual Coconut Bowl. SCOTT SHOOK/SPECIAL TO CSI
Naples and Lely were like two heavyweights Friday night at Trojans Stadium, as both defenses pounded the opposing offense and very nearly kept the football game scoreless at halftime.
(Jordan Geisler’s 41-yard field goal as time expired gave the visiting Golden Eagles a 3-0 edge at intermission.)
In the second half, the vaunted Eagles, who have dominated Collier County foes for the better part of two decades, figured out a way to eke out a 16-6 win over a game — but gassed — Trojan aggregation, winning the 47th annual Coconut Bowl, 16-6.
“I’ve got to give all the credit to our defense — and our defensive staff,” said an elated Naples High rookie head coach Rick Martin. “We have co-defensive coordinators, coach Cliff Greer and coach Mike Sawchuk. They allow us to be very, very young on offense. They allow us to make a lot of mistakes and they keep us in the game. You and I know that’s not supposed to happen.”
Indeed, the Eagles offense often looked sloppy, fumbling the football seven times and losing it twice. The Naples defense, however, was a different story, and Martin wasn’t the only coach in the Coconut Bowl who was impressed with the unit.
“We had a good game plan defensively,” said Lely coach J.J. Everage. “We knew it was going to be hard to score. Naples is the best defense we’ve faced this year. They don’t make mistakes. I don’t want to take anything away from Palmetto Ridge — they play lights-out defense, too. This is one of the fastest defenses I’ve seen in a while. Number 50 (senior linebacker Mike Moriarty) only knows one speed. … I told him he’s the best linebacker I’ve seen in Southwest Florida in quite a while. He hits with violence.
“Naples’ defense just flies to the football. They’re hard to scheme against.”
Everage’s comparison between the Naples and Palmetto Ridge defenses is an interesting one as Lely was shut out by Palmetto Ridge, 16-0, in Week 2. The Bears, who are now 5-0, gave up their first points this season in a 58-13 win Friday at Barron Collier.
Against Naples, the Lely defense showed signs of weakening at the end of the first half. Sophomore running back Kendrick Raphael busted a couple of long runs to put the Eagles in position for Geisler’s field goal.
In the second half, Raphael broke off a number of long gains on his way to 185 yards on 20 carries. Everage attributed a lot of those yards to a tired Trojans defense.
“They wore us down,” Everage said. “That’s the thing with the ground and pound that they run — it wears and tears on you defensively, especially if your offense isn’t clicking. It took us a while to get going offensively.”
Lely’s offense misfired throughout the first half, but showed signs of life in the second half when quarterback JJ Dervil found receiver Anthony Felix deep for two potentially game-changing connections.
The first one, a 63-yarder, came after Dervil shook himself free from harassing Naples defenders while rolling right. He connected with Felix, who got behind the Naples defense and then fought his way to the 3-yard line before fumbling the ball away to Naples.
The Eagles, however, fumbled the ball right back to Lely at their own 5-yard line. Trojans running back Guerschom Guerrier picked up a tough yard, then Dervil rolled right and dove to the pylon to give Lely a short-lived 6-3 lead with 6:01 left in the third quarter.
“That’s all due to JJ Dervil scrambling and making things happen,” Everage said. “Anthony Felix had a whale of a game receiving. He got behind their coverage. Naples doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. JJ made all that happen.”
Naples got the ball back and scored on its first play from scrimmage when Raphael ran 65 yards untouched. That gave the Eagles a 10-6 lead with 5:44 left in the third quarter.
Dervil found Felix again on a 50-yard hookup with time running out in the third quarter. After the Trojans offense stalled deep in Naples territory, Everage called on his field goal kicker, Jonathan Hernandez. The snap, however, was high, and Dervil, the holder, tried to salvage the play, but saw his pass fall incomplete.
“Against Naples you need all the points you can get,” Everage said. “And our defense was playing lights-out at the time. I really thought it was going to come down to a field goal. I thought we would get three points and be down one, then stop them and get the ball back. We had time.”
Raphael scored on a 22-yard scamper with 5:27 left in the game for the final margin.
As the final minutes ticked off the clock, Naples’ legendary coach, Bill Kramer, was standing near the corner of the north end zone with phone in hand, perhaps communicating about the Eagles’ win.
Kramer chose not to comment on the victory, preferring to let Martin, his pupil, enjoy all of the attention that comes with a Coconut Bowl win. (Martin was on Kramer’s first Naples High team in 1998 and played left guard on the 2001 squad — the first of two state championship teams in the Kramer era.)
“He’s as humble as they come,” Martin said of Kramer, who led Naples to its second state title in 2007 and stepped down last year after 22 seasons on the Eagles sideline. “He doesn’t have to say anything. Having him in my corner, the advice he gives me on a weekly basis, the suggestions he gives me, just checking up on me, the love that he gives me … it’s such a blessing to have that kind of support in my corner. I can’t even begin to describe it.”
Naples, which has reeled off five straight wins since opening the season with a surprising 38-0 loss at Palmetto Ridge, will conclude its regular-season schedule Friday with a home game against Golden Gate (1-5).
The Trojans (2-3) have a chance to bounce back Friday when they host Bishop Verot (5-3). Everage hopes his team returns to the form it showed during a 35-0 win over Immokalee on Oct. 16.
“I think we match up well against Bishop Verot,” Everage said. “Hopefully our defense continues to improve and we’ll have our offense back in sync like we did against Immokalee.”
After the Golden Gate game, the Eagles will be idle until the playoffs when they host unbeaten North Fort Myers (6-0) in a Nov. 13 play-in game. (Due to restrictions brought on by COVID-19, a unique playoff format was adopted that allows all teams to participate in the postseason. Lely will host Ida Baker on Nov. 13.)
Right now, Martin doesn’t want to talk playoffs — not the North Fort Myers game and certainly not a potential rematch with Palmetto Ridge, which wouldn’t take place until the regional finals.
“We’re looking to Golden Gate right now,” he said.
But Martin did open up about that season-opening loss to Palmetto Ridge.
“There’s no excuses,” he said, “but not having a spring (season), not having a kickoff classic (due to COVID), we kind of went into that game blind. We didn’t really know what we had. We had some guys who were playing out of position. After that game we realized that. Again, a testament to the kids. They just picked up their helmets and went to work the next week. I didn’t really have to do anything, give a great speech or anything. They were ready to go. They wanted to prove to everybody that they were the same old Naples. We’ve been doing that ever since.”