North Fort Myers earned its first victory of the season on Friday night despite playing most of the night without standout senior running back Zaquandre White.
North topped visiting Estero 14-6 behind 181 yards rushing, zero of which came from White, a 4-star recruit according to rivals.com who is verbally committed to Florida State.
White left the game in the first quarter with a sprained left ankle and after returning for two second quarter carries, spent the second half on the North sideline on crutches.
“We asked a lot of guys to step up in this game and they did that,” Red Knights coach Earnest Graham said. “I could not be more happy with this victory.”
North Fort Myers (1-1) plays its District 6A-10 opener against Island Coast next week in a game that will loom large for both teams’ region playoff chances.
Graham expects White to be active for that game.
North Fort Myers senior defensive tackle Hunter Warren intercepted a pass on 4th and goal from the 3-yard line with 45 seconds play to seal the victory for the Red Knights.
“This is a win that we really needed for our program,” Graham said. “It was a character win. Every single guy on our roster contributed.”
The Wildcats (1-2) drove the ball 66 yards in just under five minutes to put themselves in position to tie the game facing a 3rd and goal at the 3-yard line late in the fourth.
A fumbled snap on third down cost the Wildcats a crack at the end zone and sophomore quarterback Phillip Setterquist was hit as he threw his fourth down pass attempt and the ball fluttered into Warren’s arms.
Warren was originally created with an interception and a 27-yard return for a touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter before officials ruled that the pass was incomplete after stopping the game just prior to the Red Knight point-after-touchdown attempt.
“I was real proud of the kids’ toughness,” Wildcats coach Jeff Hanlon said. “It came down to almost the last play of the game. (North is) so fast and so athletic and we just missed too many tackles.”
North opened the game’s scoring early in the second quarter when senior running back Luis Alfonso broke a 33-yard touchdown down the Estero sideline.
Estero countered midway through the second quarter when sophomore Willie Neal scored on a 7-yard touchdown run but kicker Michael Mendes’ point after attempt was blocked. Neal’s play was set up by North Fort Myers being called for pass interference in the end zone on fourth down in the red zone.
The Wildcats had a chance to take a lead into the halftime break but Alfonso intercepted a pass at the North 1-yard line to allow the Red Knights to hold a 7-6 advantage at the half.
North senior Fa’Najae Gotay concluded the game’s scoring in the third quarter with a 15-yard touchdown run to put the Red Knights up 14-6.
Gotay led North with 65 yards rushing while Alonso racked up 53. Freshman running back Terry Lindsey rushed for 45 yards and freshman quarterback Nick Perez passed for 59 yards in his first varsity start.
White carried the ball five times but registered zero rushing yards because he fell on a fumbled snap on the game’s opening drive.
“He’s going to be fine,” Graham said of White. “We have a lot of guys that can tote the ball and that really showed.”
North Fort Myers 14, Estero 6
E 0 | 6 | 0 | 0 — 6
N 0 | 7 | 7 | 0 — 14
N: Luis Alfonso 33 run (Ethan Bennett kick), 11:50
E: Willie Neal 7 run (kick blocked), 6:53
N: Fa’Najae Gotay 15 run (Bennett kick), 9:18
Passing: E—Phillip Setterquist 10-20, 70 yards, INT, Willie Neal 2-3, 10 yards; NFM—Nick Perez 7-11, 59 yards
Rushing: E—Willie Neal 12-29, Phillip Setterquist 9-55, Max Bosi 6-15, Victor Shelly 2-2, Kyle Flynn 4-15; NFM—Fa’Najae Gotay 7-65, Zaquandre White 5-0, Luis Alfonso 6-53, Nick Perez 4-20, Terry Lindsey 7-45, Hunter Kobylanski 2-18
Receiving: E—Willie Neal 4-29, Austin Smith 3-32, Victor Shelly 4-17, Max Bosi 1-2; NFM—Jaheed Marcus 2-(minus 2), Joe Wilkins 4-42, Hunter Kobylanski 1-19