For the last week, it seemed as if South Fort Myers wouldn’t get to play a game without suspended coach Anthony Dixon. When the Wolfpack finally got their chance Saturday they played for him.
Following the cancellation of its preseason game and postponement of its Week 1 game by a day, South started what could be an entire season dedicated to Dixon by holding on for a 22-14 victory over Island Coast at Wolfpack Stadium.
Island Coast (0-1), which posted two scores in the final quarter, drove all the way to the Wolfpack 1 with a chance to tie the game with under a minute left. South stonewalled Gators quarterback Kory Curtis and company on two runs and then picked off a pass to push it to its 10th season opening win in the school’s 11-year existence. It’s only loss in an opener came in its inaugural season against Estero.
“We miss him every day,” South interim coach Matthew Holderfield said of Dixon. “We got so used to missing him I think that it was a little bit of selfishness for us to try and show him we’re ready to go.”
Dixon has been away from the team being suspended without pay and recommended for termination Aug. 17 as a result of his actions following an after-school sex incident involving players in May.
According to an 85-page report by the Lee County School District, Dixon conducted his own investigation into the incident in a South bathroom before telling his principal. He is also accused failing to adequately supervise student-athletes the day of the incident.
Dixon has received an outpouring of support from his players, assistant coach and the South community over the last 10 days.
Holderfield said the initial shock of being without Dixon hit the Wolfpack hard and was draining over the first few days. This week, he said, was better because the program could focus on Island Coast.
“This was the most normal thing we’ve had all week,” Holderfield said of game.
On an individual level, Holderfield is going through a major adjustment in morphing from assistant to head coach.
As administrators were trying to reschedule the game after it fell victim to 2 hours and 30 minutes of weather delays Friday, Holderfield joked with a spectator around 9:30 p.m. that he was ready to go home but kept forgetting he was the head coach and had to stay until the game was officially rescheduled.
South, winners of five straight district titles, may have had to wait eight extra days to begin its start its season after going 8-3 in 2015, but it almost ended in heartbreak.
Trailing 22-2, Island Coast mounted its comeback starting with a snap that sailed over the South punter’s head and gave the Gators first and goal at the Wolfpack 1. Running back Jerry Cambric scored on the next play.
Curtis had a rough start to the game with South pass rushers not giving him a ton of time to throw. The Gators offensive line, however, held in the fourth quarter and the senior finished 14-for-34 for 222 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.
Following a Wolfpack turnover on downs, Curtis uncorked a 49-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Gaymon with 8:49 to go.
Island Coast had two chances to tie it with the first opportunity being derailed by penalties and resulting in a turnover on downs in South territory.
The Gators got the ball back with 2:38 to play and Curtis found Evans in 1-on-1 coverage for 36 yards. He then dropped a 42-yard pass into Gaymon, who caught seven balls for 132 yards and a touchdown, at the South 1 with 54 seconds to play.
Three plays later Markell Anderson came up with a pick to seal the game.
“When you shoot yourself in the foot early, it hurts you late,” Island Coast coach John Schwochow said of a game where the Gators had three turnovers and had trouble running the ball all night, finishing in negative rushing yardage.
E’Quan Dorris, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards last season, ushered South on an 11-play, 84-yard drive on its first series. The senior left the game at halftime with tightness in his hamstring, but Holderfield said he would have played had it been a district game.
With the Gators backed up in its own end zone, a snap sailed over Curtis’ head on a pump for a safety to put the Wolfpack up 8-0 with less than 2 minutes left in the first.
The highlight of the night came in the second quarter when Will Morris, one of three South quarterbacks who played Saturday, found Jeshaun Jones on a swing pass. The senior receiver did the rest of the work, going 82 yards for a score to make it 16-0.
Riley Ware returned the opening kickoff of the second half 75 yards for a touchdown.
SOUTH FORT MYERS 22, ISLAND COAST 14
IC 0 2 0 12—14
SFM 8 8 6 0—22
SFM – E’Quan Dorris 2 run (Dorris run failed), 3:22
SFM – Safey, snap out of the back of the end zone, 1:56
SFM – Jeshaun Jones 82 pass from Will Morris (Dorris run), 6:11
IC – Safety, snap over punter’s head into the end zone, 0:51
SFM – Riley Ware 75 kickoff return (run failed), 11:47
IC – Jerry Cambric 1 run (run failed), 11:47
IC – Marlon Gaymon 49 pass from Kory Curtis (run failed), 8:49
Rushing – IC,Calvin Smith 8-23, Cameron Howitt 1-2, Jerry Cambric 6-(minus-3), Marlon Gaymon 1-(minus 10), Kory Curtis 8-(minus 22); SFM, E’Quan Dorris 12-79, Eddie Teague 12-74, Riley Ware 9-36, Brandon Lewis 1-4, Maurice Flournoy 5-(minus 7), Latrell Stewart 3-(minus 43).
Passing – IC, Curtis 14-34-2 222; SFM, Will Morris 3-4-0 83, Flournoy 3-4-0 38, Tyler Lackey 2-4-0 1.
Receiving – IC, Gaymon 7-132, Marcus Evans 2-48, Drew Lusk 1-23, Isiah Crawford 4-19; SFM, Jeshaun Jones 5-111, Lewis 1-16, Austin Smith 1-4, Ware 1-(minus 9)