You could say more important football games lie ahead for both Naples and South Fort Myers.
Each have district titles to chase and postseasons to prepare for in a few short weeks.
But there’s reason to get up for this non-district matchup on Friday at Wolfpack Stadium, too.
Two of the very best Southwest Florida teams will square off in a game that could easily answer the question, “Who’s the best area program in 2015?”
“They’ll knock your lips off if you’re not ready to play,” Naples head coach Bill Kramer said. “It doesn’t take anything to motivate our guys.”
“We won’t change our plays or do anything different,” South Fort Myers head coach Anthony Dixon said. “We won’t hold anything back.”
These two teams have met only three times in the last 11 years – and they were all playoff games, all in consecutive years.
South Fort Myers won just one game in 2010, beating the Golden Eagles 28-21, while Naples took consecutive matchups in 2011-12.
Each program enters Friday on a momentum swing. Winners of three straight, the Wolfpack (6-1, 1-0 District 7A-12) overcame a surge of first half penalties last week to beat Riverdale 42-13 in a crucial district game that clinched a playoff spot.
“They were put in a situation in that game,” Dixon said, “and I told them if you don’t finish, you’ll regret it. And that’s what we’ve been talking about, finishing all year.”
Naples (6-1, 2-0 District 6A-12), on a six-game win streak, disrupted Palmetto Ridge 42-7 in a game that never really was in question.
Yet you really have to go back to the Golden Eagles’ first loss against Delray Beach American Heritage in Week 1 to find where the team’s confidence began to blossom.
“That loss in Week 1 did way more for our football team and our program than what winning that game would have done,” Kramer said. “I know that for a fact. The sting of losing always has a greater effect than the thrill of winning.”
The loss forced Naples to be more accountable for their assignments, Kramer said. Enough so, in fact, that scout team players were asking whether they were doing enough to prepare the team for the next week.
“It was remarkable,” Kramer said. “I don’t know if I have ever experienced it like that.”
Since that first week loss, the Golden Eagles have, at times, looked untouchable. They’ve averaged nearly 55 points per game, shut out three teams and beaten to dust their most hopeful of rivals.
But unlike other Collier teams they’ve faced, South Fort Myers presents a more dynamic threat. Perhaps for the first time since Week 1, the Golden Eagles won’t have an edge in physicality or speed.
“This is the end of the season,” Dixon said. “We really want to be great at what we do. With anything, you’ll have a couple wrinkles. But we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel.”
While the Wolfpack have had their issues, both with penalties and quarterback play, there’s no denying the team makes plays on the defensive side of the field.
They may even have the best secondary in all of Southwest Florida – the Wolfpack have six interceptions, while Naples has four.
“We’ve always put our best guys on defense,” Dixon said. “That’s how it’s always been. We’ve stopped guys on offense and we’ve gotten a touchdown or two on special teams. And Friday, we have an opportunity to win. With Naples being so explosive, this will give us really an idea of what we have on defense.”
The Wolfpack have held opponents to less than 20 points in each of their seven games. So it makes sense that they hang their hat on their ability to make plays on the defensive side of the field.
However, South is dealing with issues on offense, too. Leading rushing E’Quan Dorris is out for the second straight week following an emergency appendectomy.
The stable of backs behind him, including Fa’Najae Gotay, Ke’Shon Murray and Riley Ware, are faced with a difficult proposition against a powerful Naples defensive front.
And quarterback play, a shuffling of sophomore Will Morris and senior Ke’Shon Murray, isn’t exactly a major strength.
That could come into play against an experienced Golden Eagles team. When it comes to senior leadership, Naples is ahead of the pack in terms of a unifying pack.
They have a group of players – Kieran DiGiorno, Carlin Fils-aime, Tyler Byrd, Robert Green, Tyler Kopp and Crandall Maines – that meet once a week with Kramer to talk goals and expectations.
“We have tremendous senior leadership,” Kramer said. “Our guys are all in. That will give us a chance to win every game.”
On Friday, two of the best teams in Southwest Florida will answer a question many have asked leading in.
Just who’s better?