As Colin Simoneau dissected the Lehigh offensive formation nearly all the coaches on the Estero sideline yelled to him and signaled where the play was headed. The Wildcats safety, however, didn’t need any direction after watching hours of film leading up to the most important game of the season.
“We’ve done all the preparation all week,” Simoneau said. “I knew he was going to his No. 1 receiver, I read the quarterback’s eyes. He was locked in on him. I had to get over there as fast as I could.”
The result was Simoneau cutting in front of Lehigh receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis and a 27-yard pick-6 that propelled Estero to a 21-7 road win Friday and a berth in the Class 6A playoffs.
It was a program-building moment for first-year Wildcats coach Jeff Hanlon, whose team lost its first five games of the season but never lost sight of its goal of a postseason berth. Estero (3-7, 2-1) beat East Lee County and the Lightning to sew up the runner-up spot in District 6A-11 and will face powerhouse Naples in the first round in two weeks.
“I was on the sideline and kids were congratulating me,” Hanlon said. “I had to tell them that it’s not about me. It’s about you.”
Throughout the season Hanlon constantly asked players what their reason for playing was.
Many had the same answer. They played for late Estero athletic director Jeff Sommer, who died in the spring.
“This team has the biggest heart,” Simoneau said. “We never gave up because we were playing for coach Sommer. We did this for him.”
In a matchup of teams that entered the game with a combined total of four wins, Estero showed it spent its bye week studying Lehigh’s every move.
Following two sloppy possessions for each team, Wildcats quarterback Willie Neal uncorked a 36-yard touchdown pass to J.C. Correll on the first play of Estero’s third series.
Chris Curry, who rushed for 142 yards but just 12 in the second half, tied the game at 7 after finding the edge and running 73 yards to the end zone.
Lehigh set up at its own 14 with under 2 minutes to play before halftime.
That’s when Estero coaches started shouting toward Simoneau that Lightning quarterback Delshawn Green was looking to go deep to Jacques-Louis. Simoneau then charged the off-target throw, made the play and finished the run by stretching the ball to the pylon.
In the second half, Alec Eschenwald capped an 8-play, 53-yard drive with a touchdown to put Estero up two scores.
The Wildcats ate up a lot of clock with 113 yards rushing in the second half.
Defensively, Estero forced two punts, picked off another pass and turned over Lehigh on downs twice in the second half, including a stop deep in Wildcat territory in the fourth quarter.
Lehigh fell to 2-6 under first-year coach James Chaney, who was back on the sideline for the first time in six games. Chaney was suspended one game after being ejected during the South Fort Myers game for two sideline infractions and missed the next four games because he was reassigned by the Lee County School District during a professional standards inquiry.
Estero 7 | 7 | 7 | 0 | FINAL 21
Lehigh 0 | 7 | 0 | 0 | FINAL 7
E: J.C. Correll 36 pass from Willie Neal (Emily Culvahouse kick)
L: Chris Curry 73 run (David Gonzalez kick)
E: Colin Simoneau 27 INT return (Culvahouse kick)
E: Alec Eschenwald 10 run (Culvahouse kick)