Bishop Verot coach Bill Shields had a sneaking suspicion scheduling a road trip to Lakeland Christian Sept. 11 would pay off late in the season. Not only did the Class 3A power provide great competition in a 31-21 Verot loss, but experiencing the travel routine of a 2½-hour bus trip up to Lakeland could only benefit the Vikings when they have to do it all over again Friday at Tenoroc.
As it turns out this District 4A-6 road game is the most important of Verot’s season where a victory means it clinches its third consecutive postseason appearance and a loss means Shields and his staff will be collecting equipment next week. It’s is one of three play-in games in Southwest Florida, which has 14 teams in Lee and Collier counties alive for playoff berths, this week.
“It’s a playoff game,” Shields said. “Our kids played as hard as they could this season and this is where we ended up.”
Verot (7-2, 4-1) is seeking its highest season win total in over a decade.
The Vikings will keep the same routine as the Lakeland Christian game. On Friday, the team will get out of school a bit early, attend mass and then eat a meal.
Arriving in Lakeland early is a concern for Shields.
“Ideally, we’d like to pull in around 6:15 and go play,” Shields said. “We don’t want to get in at 5 and sit around. We don’t want to try and win the battle on the bus.”
Sophomore running back William Scott, who has rushed for 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns, will take center stage. However, Verot will be without senior receivers Cooper Gibson and Kyle Collins, who will be serving the the last of their two-game suspensions for undisclosed disciplinary incidents, athletic director John Gulley said.
“Our kids are very experienced and have played a good schedule while handling adversity. That’s all you can ask,” Shields said.
Immokalee will travel to Lely and Lehigh will host Estero in two other do-or-die games.
Despite trying seasons under first-year coaches and combining for four wins, either the Wildcats or Lightning will be headed to the playoffs. Both teams didn’t win their first games until October and were mostly counted out.
Lehigh (2-5, 1-1), thought to be one of the area teams in line for a breakout season, experienced a number of key injuries and was without coach James Chaney for five games. Chaney was suspended Sept. 18 after two of his coaches collided on the sideline with an official causing Chaney’s ejection the previous week. A professional standard inquiry for still undisclosed reasons had Chaney reassigned within the Lee County School District for a month before returning to the team earlier this week.
With Chaney on the sideline Friday the team has a chance to make something of their season.
“I’m telling them. I believe in honesty. I’m not trying to downplay. I’m not trying to overblow it,” Chaney said. “If they win they’re in the playoffs. I’m telling them, if they prepare and practice hard and show up and be on time, and play to the best of their ability, they can do well in this game. I’m not downplaying a steroid. A steroid is dangerous. They got a coach who was the defensive coordinator (Jeff Hanlon) here last year who’s going to be coming back home. I’m sure he’s not going to come here to see Lehigh lay down on the field.”
Hanlon’s first season with Estero (2-6, 1-1) has been similar to Lehigh’s on the injury front. The Wildcats lost running back Wilkinson Glesil during the second week of the regular season, but strung together two straight wins before losing to Fort Myers 48-8 last week.
Hanlon said the bye week allowed some of his players to heal before the biggest game of their season.
“This is a great group of kids who do a great job of fighting for each other,” he said. “I don’t doubt they’ll be fighting for their season down to the last second Friday.”
Week 10 also features a district championship game between Gulf Coast and South Fort Myers, who have been on a collision course in the three-team District 7A-12 since the season began.
While South has been accustomed to winning district titles in the school’s brief history, Gulf Coast has waited 18 years for one..
Having won some big games on the road this season — at Palmetto Ridge and Immokalee — Sharks coach Pete Fominaya said his team is well-equipped to win a game in a hostile environment. However, he said despite already qualifying for the playoffs, Gulf Coast will carry the weight of an entire school on its shoulders.
“The pressure will be the same. It might even be bigger,” Fominaya said. “Here’s an opportunity for them to do something no football team’s ever done at our high school in 18 years. They’re going to do whatever they can to win a district title.”
In: Gulf Coast, South Fort Myers
Scenario: The winner of Friday’s Gulf Coast-South game will be the district champ and the loser will be the runner-up.
In: Charlotte, Port Charlotte
Out: North Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Ida Baker, Island Coast
Scenario: The winner of Friday’s Port Charlotte-Charlotte game will be the district champ and the loser will be the runner-up.
In: Fort Myers
Still alive: Estero, Lehigh
Out: East Lee County
Scenario: Fort Myers clinched the district championship while the winner of Friday’s Estero-Lehigh game will be the runner-up.
Still alive: Barron Collier, Golden Gate, Naples, Palmetto Ridge
Scenarios: 1. If Naples beats Barron Collier Friday and Palmetto Ridge beats Golden Gate, Naples is the district champion and Palmetto Ridge is the runner-up. 2. If Naples wins and Golden Gate wins, Naples is the district champion and there will be a three-way tiebreaker for the runner-up spot between Barron Collier, Palmetto Ridge and Golden Gate. 3. If Barron Collier and Palmetto Ridge win, there will be a three-way tiebreaker for the district championship and runner-up between Barron Collier, Naples and Palmetto Ridge. 4. If Barron Collier and Golden Gate win, Barron Collier is the district champion and Naples is the runner-up.
Still alive: Immokalee, Lely
Out: Cape Coral, Cypress Lake, Mariner
Scenario: Dunbar is the district champion and the winner of Friday’s Lely-Immokalee game is the runner-up.
In: Avon Park
Still alive: Bishop Verot, Lakeland Tenoroc
Out: Gateway Charter, Mulberry, LaBelle, Lake Placid
Scenario: Avon Park is the district champion and the winner of Friday’s Bishop Verot-Tenoroc game is the runner-up.
Still alive: Community School of Naples, First Baptist Academy, Moore Haven, Southwest Florida Christian Academy
Out: Marco Island Academy, St. John Neumann
Scenarios: 1. If First Baptist beats Moore Haven Friday and Community School beats SFCA, First Baptist is district champion and Community School is runner-up. 2. If First Baptist and SFCA win, First Baptist is district champion and there will be a three-way tiebreaker for the runner-up spot between Community School, Moore Haven and SFCA. 3. If Moore Haven and Community School win, there will be a three-way tiebreaker for the district championship and runner-up spot between Community School, First Baptist and Moore Haven. 4. If Moore Haven and SFCA win, Moore Haven is district champion and First Baptist is runner-up.