The much-anticipated matchup of the best teams Southwest Florida had to offer wasn’t supposed to go to a running clock in the third quarter.
With two of the top defenses in the Class 6A taking the field in a regional final, one team scoring 35 points on the other was thought to be out of the question.
Robert Green and his Naples teammates, however, saw it going exactly that way. Despite being in the minority, they were right as the Golden Eagles suffocated undefeated Charlotte, not allowing all-state caliber quarterback Brennan Simms, while Naples quarterback Kieran DiGiorno had all day in the pocket, passing for 173 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-0 victory Friday in the Region 6A-3 final at Staver Field.
With the win, Naples (11-1) advanced to state semifinals for the first time since 2012. And the Eagles will face a familiar opponent in Miami Central, which knocked off the 12-0 Golden Eagles that year.
That will be Naples’ biggest test of the season to date. Charlotte (12-1), which averaged 42 points and gave up less than 10 a game, was supposed to hold that title.
“Absolutely not,” Green said when asked if was surprised by the lopsided score. “When we play the way we can and when we execute our game plan we can beat anybody.”
Naples defensive coordinator put together a game plan that held the Tarpons to just 70 yards offense, including just 27 rushing yards from University of South Florida commit Elijah Mack.
Simms entered the game having thrown for nearly 2,300 yards and 25 touchdowns with a 65 percent completion percentage, but felt the heat of the Golden Eagles front seven all night and managed just 50 yards on 4-for-15 passing.
“We got dominated up front so bad tonight,” said Charlotte coach Binky Waldrop, whose 2009 and 2010 teams also went 12-0 before losing in the regional finals. “That was (the) difference. We couldn’t run. We couldn’t throw. It’s really pretty simple if you were watching the game.”
After forcing a Tarpons punt to open the game, Naples senior running back Carlin Fils-aime led his team down the field and finished an 82-yard drive with a 27-yard touchdown to open up a 7-0 lead that carried into the second quarter. The Tennessee commit finished with 107 yards on 16 carries.
Charlotte’s grasp on the game began to loosen when it put the Naples offense in three different third-and-long situations, but couldn’t force a punt. An Antonio Carbonaro 36-yard run on draw play on third-and-11, a facemask penalty and a DiGiorno to Wooby Theork 33-yard touchdown pass over the middle on a third down turned the tide for good.
DiGiorno found Chris Hanlon in the end zone with 7 seconds left in the first half and opened the third quarter with a flare to Tyler Byrd where the Miami commit did all the work on a 47-yard score to go up 21-0.
“The O-line was giving me all day to throw and the receivers were just getting open,” DiGiorno said. “I knew that if I just threw where I was supposed to they were going to catch it.”
The senior signal caller hooked up with Theork once more for a score with 2:54 left in the third, which started the running clock and left a visitor’s section filled to capacity in shock.
“The deeper you go in the playoffs, the more it stings,” Waldrop said. “We’ve been there before.”
Charlotte 0 0 0 0 – 0
Naples 7 14 14 0 – 35
N: Carlin Fils-Aime 27 run (Jerry Nunez kick)
N: Wooby Theork 33 pass from Kieran DiGiorno (Nunez kick)
N: Chris Hanlon 5 pass from DiGiorno (Nunez kick)
N: Tyler Byrd 47 pass from DiGiorno (Nunez kick)
N: Theork 15 pass from DiGiorno (Nunez kick)