ORLANDO — A game of yards turned into a game of 72 inches with zero seconds remaining.
The Immokalee Indians, which already had stamped their name into Southwest Florida high school football lore just by reaching the Class 5A state championship game, attained those final two yards (72 inches) for what could have been a game-tying touchdown drive.
Immokalee then encountered just one big problem.
The snap and hold for Immokalee’s extra point attempt following senior wide receiver Xavier Richardson’s 2-yard touchdown catch were botched.
Immokalee senior quarterback Tshumbi Johnson grabbed the ball and, forced to throw on the run, threw an interception as the Indians ended their season.
Tallahassee Godby High defeated Immokalee 21-20 Friday afternoon in front of an announced crowd of 3,309 fans at the Citrus Bowl. Godby finished its season with a 14-1 record while adding a fourth state title to program history. The Indians finished with an 11-4 record, ending their hopes of joining the 2004 Class 2A Immokalee team as state title winners.
Immokalee had to settle for becoming just the tenth team from Southwest Florida to reach a state title game.
“My heart dropped,” Immokalee coach Jerrod Ackley said. “It’s a crushing way to lose a game.”
Ackley put that play into perspective.
“We talked about a few things,” Ackley said of his postgame talk to his team. “Obviously that play is spotlighted as the single play that cost us the game. But there were several plays that cost us the game in the long run. We had interceptions and fumbles and a bunch of dumb penalties in the first half.
“We turned the ball over, and they beat us.”
The Immokalee fans appeared to outnumber Godby’s by at least a 2-to-1 ratio, but Immokalee’s turnovers outnumbered those of Godby 4-1.
Godby coach Ronnie Cottrell said he felt his heart beating rather fast when Johnson and his junior brother, running back D’Ernest Johnson, helped engineer a 12-play, 82-yard touchdown drive that spanned the game’s final 68 seconds.
“I had a heart attack two years ago,” said Cottrell. “I thought I was about to have another one. It was unbelievable.”
During that drive, Tshumbi Johnson completed passes of 23 and 19 yards to D’Ernest Johnson and a 19-yard pass to senior Mackensie Alexander that set up the touchdown toss to Richardson.
“The snap was off and the hold was off,” said Immokalee senior kicker Jesus Velazco. “It just didn’t go as expected.
“We can’t go back and redo what happened. We can say one thing. We got here. We got to state. We couldn’t win every single game. There has to be a winner, and there has to be a loser. Now we have to move on. We have to look forward in life.”
Edgerrin James, a 1996 Immokalee graduate and the No. 11 leading rusher in NFL history, watched the game and its aftermath with a poker face from the sideline.
“The people of Immokalee, we really appreciate it that they made it this far,” James said. “With what they’ve been through, to make it this far, it says a lot.
“Any time you lose, it’s hard. It’s hard initially. When they go back and look at the game and look at the way they lost the game, if they don’t have the turnovers, it’s a completely different game. It goes with the territory. We played all the way to the last second. The last second. That says a lot. There are so many teams that probably would have quit or laid down. To get the ball back and drive it all the way down the field, that says a lot.”
Connect with this reporter: David Dorsey (Facebook), @DavidADorsey (Twitter).