South Fort Myers beat its first three opponents this season by a combined 24 points. Island Coast, Cape Coral and Lehigh, which now have a combined record of 1-9, tested the Wolfpack late into the games.
The perception that South may be in the midst of a down year was premature, though. It changed a lot of minds with an 18-16 victory over rival Fort Myers last week to remain the only undefeated program in Lee County.
The win also went a long way in alleviating a lot of the stress on the players brought on by the removal of head coach Anthony Dixon and assistant Nathan O’Jibway just before the season started. A Lee County school district investigation found the coaches’ lack of oversight allowed an after school sexual encounter between a female student and several football players in a school bathroom to occur in May.
“It’s not necessarily that our kids aren’t confident. We’ve been so successful the last few years that we have confidence anyway in ourselves,” interim coach Matt Holderfield said. “The biggest thing is stress. Everybody just had a little extra weight on their shoulders. I don’t know that even when things were going well the kids thought they were supposed to enjoy it or smile because they kind of felt like they were under a microscope. That stuff isn’t going to go away the entire year.”
And things aren’t going to get any easier this week with a road game at rival Dunbar (3-1). The Tigers are coming off a devastating District 5A-12 loss to Lely last week.
Holderfield spent 15 years coaching at Gadsen City High in Alabama where the same teams are dominant every year. Having been in Southwest Florida the last five years, he’s still getting used to the shifts in power.
“With the school choice deal, each school really has two or three players who are exceptional athletes and exceptional players. It’s just those core of players around them that rise them up to being a pretty good team,” Holderfield said. “ … Really, any week a team can show up enough to give you issues.”
Wins are the priority at South. Style points aren’t, especially for a team in the midst of major transitions.
Holderfield is complimented weekly on his defense, which has made key stops each game, but is always asked why the offense and special teams haven’t caught up.
Offensive coordinator Jarvis Kinchen is still getting used to calling plays on the varsity level in place of Dixon. Meanwhile, special teams is adjusting to life without O’Jibway.
“The defense is the thing that hasn’t changed a whole lot,” Holderfield said.
Led by linebackers Thomas Edison and Tristan Perry, who have combined for 70 tackles, the defense is extremely difficult to run on — Fort Myers found that out. The Green Wave averaged just 2.6 yards a carry.
“If you’ve got to go 80 yards (to score) they’re going to beat you,” Dunbar coach Sammy Brown said.
After giving up just seven points in its first three wins, the Tigers defense surrendered a 17-point lead and never recovered last week at Lely. Brown’s team plummeted out of the Class 5A poll after reaching as high as No. 8.
“It is the first loss of the season, but we’ve lost before,” Brown said. “We know we have to bounce back. Unfortunately, it was a district game. I think it’ll settle us down, and we’ll forget about all the rankings and everything else and just play football.”
Extra emphasis was put on slowing down Maurice Flournoy, South’s dual-threat quarterback. Cut from the same cloth, Lely’s Jacquez Carter gave Dunbar fits last week as he threw for four touchdowns.
“You can’t stop a guy like Flournoy. You can’t stop those guys,” Brown said. “All you can do is try to contain him and make more plays than they make.”
In past weeks, South benefited from having more athletes on the field than its opponent. That’s not the case with Dunbar and Fort Myers.
“We’ve got to be as close to perfect as we can with what we’re doing offensively,” Holderfield said. “We have to try to catch them being athletic. We have to try to get them out of position with little plays that go back the other direction, traps here and there, counters, screen passes. It’s a lot like watching ourselves and mirroring our own stuff.”
Brown couldn’t agree more.
“We just want to have a chance in the fourth quarter,” Brown said. “The teams are so close in style of play and competition. There are no blowouts. You just have to try and keep that thing close and get a chance to win at the end.”
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