Playing in a three-team district, as Riverdale and Gulf Coast do, one can choose to look at the situation in one of two ways. The upside is a team can win one or two games to qualify for the postseason with the downside being a team’s season boils down to just two games.
Riverdale coach Damon Jones describes himself as a “glass-half-full guy” as his team faces what could amount to a de facto play-in game against Gulf Coast Friday in Naples.
“It does take away from the meaningfulness of the rest of the season, but that is why you schedule up,” said Jones, whose Raiders are looking to make their first state playoff appearance since 2010. “You challenge your kids to understand how important this week is.”
In District 7A-12 both teams are chasing South Fort Myers, a Southwest Florida powerhouse over the last decade. A win in this week’s matchup will go a long way in cementing a team’s status as a playoff team with both teams being underdogs against South in the next few weeks.
That isn’t lost on Gulf Coast coach Pete Fominaya, who has led his team to a 4-1 start this season.
“Our mindset is that this is a playoff game,” Fominaya said. “You can’t lose this one or else you’re completely behind the 8-ball.”
Ideally, Fominaya and Jones expect their teams to play their best game of the regular season Friday. That will require both teams to clean up some mistakes made in big spots already this year.
Nearly two weeks ago appeared to be Gulf Coast’s best opportunity to beat city rival Naples, but the Sharks offense never got going thanks to a couple of fumbles and not giving enough time for quarterback Kaden Frost to get rid of the ball.
Riverdale (2-3) maintains a positive overall point differential in part because of a strong defense. Yet it has lost two games by a touchdown or less and hurt itself with six fumbles and a host of penalties that served as drive killers in a 17-6 loss to Ida Baker last week.
Jones and his staff have been proactive this week in correcting those mistakes. This week he’s allocated practice time to breakdown why the mistakes are happening and simulate situations where players can get positive repetitions.
“We need to sustain drives and finish them,” Jones said. “We can’t be leaving points on the board.”
One advantage Riverdale has is its size up front with an offensive line led by guard Cole Schneider and tackle Finley Felix.
“You can’ prepare for that type of size. They have a state champion heavyweight wrestler (Schneider) and a bunch of bigger guys,” Fominaya said. “We need to have a low pad level and play assignment football.”
Defensively, Riverdale will try to keep the potent Sharks offense in front of it and force Frost and company to be perfect on long drives.
Fominaya pointed out his team, which is plus-12 in turnover margin this season, is built to sustain drives.
“We constantly have fresh legs coming in at running back and wide receiver,” Fominaya said. “That puts a lot of pressure on the linebackers and secondary during a long drive.”
That being said, there is no margin for error for either team Friday.