They did it.
And after they did it, perhaps the sweatiest, most animated party in Southwest Florida erupted on Frank Tudryn field with in a sea of black and teal.
Playing surprisingly stout defense against the team most in the area considered by far the best, Gulf Coast High School’s football team — the school opened in 1998 — won its first-ever district title with a 14-6 victory over previously unbeaten South Fort Myers for the District 7A-12 crown.
“This is awesome,” said a Gatorade bucket-soaked Gulf Coast coach Pete Fominaya. “I talked to a couple of my assistants who have been here since Day 1 and said, ‘Remember when we got here five years ago, what people thought of this program and where we were then?
“‘Look where we are now.'”
With Gulf Coast holding onto a 7-6 lead with 9:40 left to play, Carl Simon got fingers on the 22-yard field goal try of South Fort Myers’ Daniel Diaz and the ball sailed harmlessly to the left.
The defense and DeMarcus Townsend took it from there. After the Sharks got yet another big stop, they took over on the Wolfpack 38. Four plays later, Townsend somehow got a 28-yard touchdown run despite pulling up at about the 6 with a hamstring pull and a host of Wolfpack players holding onto him.
“My teammates just carried me in,” Townsend said. “Just heart and love for each other.”
That TD with 4:43 left turned out to be the decisive play in what was an old-fashioned defensive battle.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time situations,” Fominaya said of Townsend’s TD run. “That just tells you the caliber of athlete he is. Incredible. So proud of him.”
Townsend will sit out next week when Gulf Coast (6-3, 2-0) plays at Golden Gate. The Sharks expect to have him back for the Class 7A playoffs when they play host to Bradenton Braden River, the 7A-11 runner-up.
South Fort Myers (8-1, 1-1) also will be in the playoffs, where they will face 7A-11 champion Venice in a rematch of a playoff game a season ago.
“We played flat and kind of played down,” said a stunned South Fort Myers interim coach Matt Holderfield. “I got us beat tonight. We just didn’t execute. All night long we made bad decisions. I just didn’t have them ready to play.”
The Sharks’ defense carried the offense against South Fort Myers, which won at mighty Naples last week and averaged 44.6 points its previous three games. Senior E’Quan Dorris picked up 117 yards, but it took him 23 carries to get there. The Wolfpack totaled just 243 yards.
“The defense played their hearts out,” Townsend said. “They watched film. They studied so hard. They deserved this. We all deserved this.”
A junior, Townsend led Gulf Coast with 104 yards and the TD on 18 carries. Classmate Kaden Frost was 6 of 18 for 65 yards as the Sharks got by with 209 yards.
Both teams made early moves into the other’s territory at the start, but couldn’t cash in. South Fort Myers, for example, failed on a fourth-and-goal from the 4 on the Wolfpack’s first possession.
“We weren’t going to give them anything,” Fominaya said. “We weren’t going to let them behind us and we were going to force them to try to drive down the football field, and that’s not the way they like to play. We made them earn every inch and I’m so proud of our defense tonight.
“We have the best front four in Southwest Florida and those guys played like it tonight.”
After the initial surges, the defenses stiffened as no first-half play covered 20 yards until senior Lounceny Keita broke for a 23-yard score on a nice cutback to the left for a 7-0 lead with just 2:38 left until intermission.
Townsend picked up a first down on fourth-and-2 with a 3-yard run on the play prior to Keita’s score.
South Fort Myers finally broke the ice with 4:18 left in the third when Riley Ware broke off a 47-yard zig-zag touchdown to the left side. The Wolfpack went for 2 with Ware operating from the wildcat, but the Sharks swarmed him well shy and held a 7-6 lead.
“This is a legacy,” Townsend said. “Everyone doubted. Look at all the news reports.
“And we did it.”
GULF COAST 14, SOUTH FORT MYERS 6
SFM 0 0 6 0 – 6
GC 0 7 0 7 – 14
GC — Louncey Keita 23 run (Gio Torres kick), 2:38
SFM — Riley Ware 47 run (run failed), 4:18
GC — DeMarcus Townsend 28 run (Torres kick), 4:43