There are few football games that motivate more than a throwback rivalry game, and Friday certainly provides a great case study when Naples visits Fort Myers in the Region 6A-3 semifinals at Edison Stadium.
The Class 6A fifth-ranked Golden Eagles (9-1) face the Green Wave (9-2) for just the second time since 2011 and just the seventh time overall since 2000.
“It kind of gives you that throwback to old Fort Myers against old Naples when it was the only game back then,” Fort Myers coach Sam Sirianni Jr. said. “The first game between the two schools was 1963. It’s a nice nostalgia trip down memory lane.”
Maybe not so much for Fort Myers.
Sirianni only vaguely remembers their last encounter in 2011, a 41-0 loss in the region semifinals. “I think it was cold,” he said. “Was it chilly?”
But Friday presents, at least on paper, a more balanced matchup. Naples hasn’t lost since its opening week against Delray Beach American Heritage and has won its past two games by a combined score of 106-14.
Fort Myers is on a six-game tear following a 42-14 win over Palmetto Ridge in the regional quarterfinals and sports a point differential of plus-65 over its last two games.
While the Golden Eagles have largely had their way with opponents – only one game besides its loss was within 10 points – they’re not taking any chances with a fast and decisive Fort Myers defense that has given up just six touchdowns in its last five games.
“This week, there’s no stone left unturned. We’re going to spend the extra hour,” Naples head coach Bill Kramer said. “Our coaches didn’t get out until 11:30 Sunday night.”
Two weeks ago, a large contingent of Naples football players could be seen exiting Edison Stadium following the Green Wave’s 31-0 win over Dunbar. It presented one of a few opportunities for the team to see the Green Wave in person, other than to examine film from previous weeks.
In over four decades, these two teams have played just 30 times. Fort Myers leads the series 17-12-1, though since 2000 the Golden Eagles own a 4-2 record over the Green Wave.
“There’s tremendous history and tremendous alumni base and they all have stories of encounters with the other school and sports,” Kramer said. “I think that’s the base for what makes this game so big.”
So it’s rather simple. Neither team will overlook the other.
Fort Myers understands the Golden Eagles employ perhaps the most dynamic team they’ve seen all season. Naples running back Carlin Fils-aime (1,023 yards, 21 TDs) has six games of over 100 yards, quarterback Kieran DiGiorno (1,224 yards passing, 17 TDs) has seven games of over 100 yards passing and sophomore receiver Wooby Theork (25 catches, 381 yards) is one game away from becoming the team’s next biggest weapon.
Naples understands the Green Wave can beat them in multiple ways.
“They have several guys on offense that are home run hitters,” Kramer said. “You miss a tackle and they’re in for the score, so that’s concerning.”
That includes running back Darrian Felix (968 yards, 13 TDs), who has almost 1,500 all-purpose yards, fullback Xavier Perez (592 yards, 7 TDs) and quarterback Edwitch Merisier (1,151 yards passing, 7 TDs).
But this game might not be that simple, either.
Special teams will make a big impact considering Naples has placekicker Jerry Nunez (58 touchbacks) and punter Chris Riley, who averages 45 yards per attempt.
“Their kicking game is wonderful,” Sirianni said. “They block kicks, they return, they put their starters in. It’s a tribute to Bill.”
And Fort Myers’ defense has been one of the area’s best over the last six weeks, highlighted by a lightning quick linebacker corps and opportunistic defensive line that’s gobbled up sacks – the Green Wave have 34.5 on the season.
“Everybody is going to attack you differently,” Kramer said. “You will see things you haven’t seen. And they’re going to be so fired up.”
As Kramer likes to say, “disregard all extraneous stimuli.”
“I think it’s pretty appropriate,” he said.