Tyler Byrd gave a quick nod to history early this week. As one of three four-year starters ever at Naples High, he was on the field when Miami Central scored 20 points in the last 8 minutes to come back and beat the Golden Eagles 48-33 in a 2012 state semifinal.
“I am going to go get this game for my 2012 Naples Golden Eagles. I love my team, got to finish this time,” Byrd tweeted.
It was a promise to former teammates Brian Donnelly and Manny Morgan, whose prep careers ended that night in heartbreaking fashion.
With Friday’s game being the same round and opponent when Naples (11-1) travels to Traz Powell Stadium to face Miaimi Central (10-2) in a Class 6A semifinal, Byrd left his comments about the 2012 game to that tweet. These Golden Eagles are looking to carve their own legacy and become the 17th team from Southwest Florida to reach a football state final.
“That game has absolutely no relevance,” Naples coach Bill Kramer said of the 2012 contest where future Division-I running backs Dalvin Cook and Joseph Yearby combined to rush for 239 yards and five touchdowns for the Rockets.
The Eagles will have their hands full enough with this year’s Central team, which has seven players committed to D-1 schools and two others with D-1 offers, to be worrying the ghosts of years past.
The Rockets, whose loses came against nationally ranked DeMatha Catholic in Maryland and Miami Carol City, have won three straight state titles and are seeking their sixth straight berth in a final.
“Have you seen this team?” Kramer asked. “Ridiculous size and speed. There’s nothing like it. There’s no way to simulate it in practice.”
Instead, the majority of Naples’ practices have been spent focusing on itself. The prevailing thought may be that the Eagles will need to play a near-perfect game with no turnovers and minimal penalties to knock off the champ, but Kramer is a realist and should expect more than a few things to go wrong unlike during his team’s 35-0 victory over then-undefeated Charlotte last week.
How his team responds to mistakes will be paramount to advancing to its fourth state final.
Against a Tarpon’s team that averaged nearly 42 points and over 400 yards of offense a game, Naples posted its fifth shutout of the season, holding them to under 100 yards.
To combat Central’s spread, which focuses heavily on finding playmakers in space, open field tackles will be a top priority for the Eagles’ defense led by Byrd, a Miami commit, and leading tackler Tyler Kopp. The year’s unit is the third under defensive coordinator Sam Dollar to hold opponents under 10 points per game.
The Central defense presents the biggest test of the season for a Naples offense that has been firing on all cylinders as of late. The Rockets are holding teams to just 44 rushing yards a game and ball carriers to just over two yards a carry.
Senior running back Carlin Fils-aime, a Tennessee recruit, carried 16 times for 107 yards last week while senior Antonio Carbonaro may play the most important role picking up the tough yards between the tackles. Carbonaro converted a huge first down on third-and-long last week with a 36-yard run off a draw pla.
Naples quarterback Kieran DiGiorno has thrown 11 touchdown passes in his past four games.
“We’re going to need everybody on this team to make a contribution,” Kramer said. “There’s no doubt.”
IF YOU GO
What: Naples vs. Miami Central in Class 6A semifinals
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Traz Powell Stadium, 11380 NW 27th Ave, Miami, FL 33167
Southwest Florida teams state final appearances
Bishop Verot: 1990, 1994
Clewiston: 1981, 1982, 1986, 1997, 2001, 2006
Immokalee: 2004, 2012
Naples: 2001, 2003, 2007