Not even two miles from where their former teammate tragically took his last breath, the Clewiston Tigers were cooking up a fitting tribute to Expavious Tyrell Taylor.
Not even a week after Taylor, 20, was shot and killed by a still-unknown assailant during downtown Fort Myers’ Zombicon, the Tigers drove the field headed toward an emotional victory.
Trailing by six points, a 67-yard game-winning touchdown drive may have eased the pain of a community for an evening. And even that would have been worth the blood and sweat.
That was the ending the Tigers hoped for. But it wasn’t to be as Clewiston botched a crucial shotgun snap on fourth-and-inches deep in Fort Myers territory, resulting in a heartbreaking 12-7 loss Friday at Edison Stadium, which displayed Taylor’s No. 66 enclosed in a blue and yellow heart at midfield.
“There were some emotions, of course, but we had a good week of practice and the guys had their minds ready to go,” Clewiston coach Pete Walker said. “They played good football. It could have gone either way most of the night. It’s just unfortunate for us because we really needed a big win here.”
“I’ve got a lot of tough kids mentally and physically. I’m proud of them.”
Everything Clewiston (5-4) did in practice leading up to this rivalry game renewed after three decades was with Taylor in mind. In pregame warm-ups, inactive player Naquan Robinson carried Taylor’s jersey around to each of his teammates, who sported No. 66 helmet stickers, reminding them who they were playing for.
After a first half where it trailed 6-0, Clewiston came to life on a 70-yard touchdown pass down the sideline from quarterback Davis Witt to Tyrin Summers.
Fort Myers rushed for nearly 300 yards as a team, but the Tigers found ways to make stops through 3 1/2 quarters save for a 95-yard Green Wave drive in the second quarter.
Sophomore Xavier Perez finished with 132 yards on 17 carries and put Fort Myers up by five with 6 minutes to play with a 32-yard touchdown run.
Walker inserted sophomore quarterback Menta’ Jones into the game for the final drive. He willed the Tigers down to the Green Wave 18 with a collection of broken tackles and second efforts.
With half of a ball length to go for a new set of downs, Jones couldn’t handle a groundball snap and fell short of the maker.
“Our kids would have fought down to the goal line,” said Fort Myers coach Sam Sirianni, whose team has already clinched a district title and improved to 6-2. “That’s kind of the way they are. They’re not the biggest, not the strongest, not the fastest, but we play with a lot of heart. I think tonight is going to be a galvanizing type of game.”
The Green Wave ran the final minutes off the clock, leaving several Tigers, who’ve lost four games by a combined 21 points, in tears as their tribute ended differently than they hoped.
As Walker led a postgame talk, Sirianni ran over to the team for a private moment.
“We just wanted to wish them our thoughts and prayers,” Sirianni said. “We’ve been through it just a few short years ago. We just wanted to let them know that with heavy hearts they have to move forward as a family and unite. It’s never easy and there’s no way to describe it. They just need to keep their chins up, the sun will come out tomorrow and, hopefully, they can move forward as a family and try to heal.”
Friday was the first step.
Clewiston 0 | 0 | 7 | 0 | FINAL 7
Fort Myers 0 | 6 | 0 | 6 | FINAL 12
FM: Edwitch Merisier 1 run (kick failed)
C: Tyrin Summers 70 pass from Davis Witt (Colt Flynn kick)
FM: Xavier Perez 27 run (run failed)