In an opening week showdown between two of Southwest Florida’s best high school football programs, Naples and Dunbar spent much of Friday evening trying to hand their opponent a victory.
Ultimately, it was the host Tigers who proved to be the most generous, as 14 penalties, an ill-advised fake punt try, a dropped touchdown pass and a pair of turnovers allowed the Golden Eagles to escape with a 21-13 victory.
“When it mattered our guys got it done,” Naples coach Bill Kramer said.
Kramer rightfully credited the Golden Eagles’ defense, which controlled the line of scrimmage, sacking Dunbar quarterbacks Daniel Cobb and Bob Rice a combined five times and blanketed the Tigers’ collection of talented pass catchers.
In the game within the game, Naples junior defensive back Tyler Byrd held highly touted Dunbar wide receiver Reyshene Bronson without a catch and secured the win by intercepting a Rice pass intended for the 6-foot-3 senior with 1:35 left.
“I was just trying to cover him the best I could and take away half the field and their best option,” Byrd said.
The Golden Eagles made the game’s first critical mistake when on their fourth offensive play, a botched handoff was scooped up by Tigers junior lineman Mike Sharp, who showed some impressive moves in rumbling 41 yards to put Dunbar up 7-0.
Naples’ next series ended with a failed 46-yard field goal attempt.
With the Golden Eagles a little shaken, the Tigers handed over any momentum they’d gained when Cobb tried to run for a first down on a fake punt try inside Dunbar’s 20-yard line. Naples took over at the 15 and two plays later tied the game on an 8-yard run by senior running back Max Joseph.
The Golden Eagles took a 14-7 lead into halftime, thanks to junior quarterback Michael Walker, who turned on the jets and outran the Tigers secondary for a 53-yard touchdown.
Dunbar played the entire second half without starting quarterback Cobb, who lost a battle with dehydration. Rice, a less accomplished passer, made a handful of plays with his legs, driving the Tigers to the Naples 13 on their second drive of the third quarter. But a sack and a false start penalty ended the drive.
Naples responded with a seven-play, 76-yard march, kept alive by two Dunbar personal foul penalties. Walker finished it off with a 1-yard scoring run, putting the Golden Eagles up 21-7 heading into the fourth.
The Tigers squandered another scoring chance, this time when senior wide receiver Joe Williams couldn’t bring in what would have been a sure touchdown. But Dunbar got a reprieve when senior defensive back Tajze Battle recovered a Joseph fumble at the Tigers 45.
Four plays later, Rice lofted a beautiful 34-yard strike to Williams to make it 21-13 with 5:32 remaining.
Byrd then coughed up the ensuing kickoff and Dunbar senior Al Smith came up with the ball at the Naples 21. But four plays later, senior running back Marquise Bryant lost the ball and the Golden Eagles recovered.
Still, Dunbar had one last chance to force overtime, taking over at the Naples 42 with 1:41 left. But Byrd intercepted Rice’s first down pass and the Tigers’ long night was finally over.
“You can’t make as many mistakes as we did against a team that good,” Dunbar coach Phil Vogt said. “But we kept fighting. We could have thrown in the towel when it was 21-7 but we hung in there.”
Dunbar: Mike Sharp 41 fumble return (Daniel Cobb kick)
Naples: Max Joseph 8 run (Jerry Nunez kick)
Naples: Michael Walker 53 run (Nunez kick)
Naples: Walker 1 run (Nunez kick)
Dunbar: Joe Williams 34 pass from Bob Rice (run fail)