It took the game’s final pass to erase playoff hopes for the North Fort Myers football team.
An interception marked the end of yet another hyped season for the Red Knights, which lost to Charlotte 24-21 on Friday in a critical District 6A-10 game at Tarpons Stadium.
The Red Knights, who also led Port Charlotte two weeks ago before letting the lead slip late, scored a touchdown with 25 seconds left to cut the deficit to 3 and then jumped on the ensuing onside kick for one final shot inside the Tarpons own half.
Then it all came crashing down. A game-ending interception by Tarpons defensive back Savorion Warren squashed North Fort Myers’ hopes of third-year coach Earnest Graham’s first playoff bid. With district losses to Charlotte and Port Charlotte, the Red Knights are ousted from playoff contention.
They’ve now lost their past two games by a combined seven points.
The loss, the team’s second in a row, also ended postseason hopes for a host of seniors, including Florida State commit Zaquandre White. The Red Knights (3-3) have three games left against Ida Baker, Cape Coral and Barron Collier. They can avoid their third straight 5-win season with three straight victories to close the season.
“There’s a very fine line between winning and losing,” Graham said in the team huddle following the game.
The Red Knights, who gave up just 201 yards of total offense by Charlotte, dominated for stretches, using a strong passing game from junior Ben Pogue to rush down the final on numerous drives. He ended with 18 of 32 for 273 yards and three touchdowns, but he also had three interceptions.
Charlotte managed just 20 first half plays, but they came out strong in the second half. The Tarpons scored the go-ahead touchdown with 7:11 remaining in the third quarter.
“I don’t know what to say, man,” White said. “It’s just sad. It’s heartbreaking.”
White rushed 21 times for 71 yards, part of 167 yards on the ground for North, but he rarely broke free from a stingy Tarpons defense. In the fourth quarter, he lined up at quarterback and also tossed a pass for 31 yards.
“They were a team hungry to get into the playoffs,” said Charlotte running back Maleek Williams, who played defense for the first time all season in the second half.
North missed a 32-yard field goal by Ethan Bennett with 9:30 left in the fourth quarter. On their next series, they stalled out at the 26.
“It’s players making plays,” Graham said. “That’s what happened. At the end, it’s about players making plays.”
The crucial play for the Tarpons, who were leading by just 3 points late in the fourth quarter, came after North’s turnover on downs with a little over four minutes left to go. Charlotte’s Dee Hicks split out to the outside for a 71 yard run that finished at the 3.
Williams, who finished with 85 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns, pushed the ball into the end zone two plays later. The Tarpons improved to 6-0 and 3-0 in the district with a district championship-deciding game against Port Charlotte on Oct. 28.
North led for much of the first half, taking a 14-7 lead from a 44 yard pass by Pogue to Bryce Adkins.
NORTH FORT MYERS 21, CHARLOTTE 24
NFM 7 | 7 | 0 | 7 — 21
C 7 | 3 | 7 | 7 — 24
C — Savorion Warren 47 punt return (Kenny Scribner kick), 9:13
NFM — Luis Alfonso 16 pass Ben Pogue (Ethan Bennett kick), 1:46
NFM — Bryce Adkins 44 pass Pogue (Bennett kick), 11:52
C — Scribner 24 field goal, 7:00
C – Maleek Williams 7 run (Scribner kick), 7:11
C — Williams 3 run (Scribner kick), 3:59
NFM – Brandon King 6 pass Bogue (Bennett kick), :25.0
Rushing — C, Maleek Williams 17-85, Lavell Cudjo 2-8, Travon McClary 1-5, Andrew Grace 3-24, Dee Hicks 6-90. NFM, Zaquandre White 21-71, Fa’Najae Gotay 10-50, Terry Lindsey 4-62, Ben Pogue 3-(-)16.
Passing — C, Williams 1-1-0-(-)6, Hicks 2-12-0-16; NFM, Pogue 18-32-3-273, Zaquandre White 1-1-0-31.
Receiving — C, Grace 1-(-)6, Jacob White 2-16; NFM, Luis Alfonso 7-94, Joe Wilkins 4-61, Brandon King 2-40, Erick Dorsey 1-31, Bryce Adkins 1-44, White 1-13.