The Lely Trojans seek their third consecutive state football playoff berth under head coach Culmer St. Jean when they play Immokalee on Friday night at Gary Bates Stadium.
St. Jean, the Lely High product and former University of Wisconsin linebacker whose position as head coach was made official following the 2013 season during which he served in an interim role, and the Trojans will earn the Class 5A District 12 runner-up spot with a victory over the Indians.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Lely (2-6) is looking for a second straight win after posting a 27-8 triumph over visiting Cypress Lake last Friday. That same night, Dunbar claimed the 5A-12 championship thanks to a 21-13 victory over Immokalee.
The Trojans’ 1-6 start included a 14-13 loss to Dunbar on Sept. 18 and a 49-27 district victory over Mariner on Oct. 2, but they find themselves one win from reaching the postseason for the 14th time in school history.
“It would be great. We put ourselves in this position – we had an opportunity to beat Dunbar and we didn’t get it done,” St. Jean said. “We did win our next two district games and now it comes down to us and Immokalee.”
Lely took a similar path to the playoffs in 2013 when it started the regular season 0-5. The Trojans won four of their next five games – and in the process finished second in a three-team district with Golden Gate and Immokalee – en route to a Class 5A regional quarterfinal appearance against eventual state champion Plantation American Heritage.
Lely, Golden Gate and Immokalee remained in a three-team 5A district last season. The top two places were determined by a late October showdown between Lely and Immokalee, with the Trojans scoring a 28-7 home victory for the program’s first district title in 17 years.
Immokalee (3-5, 2-1) has been trying to get its overall record back to .500 since dropping three straight September contests. The Indians have had their share of close calls this year with single-digit losses to Barron Collier, Palmetto Ridge and Dunbar.
Comparing common opponents this season – including the Dunbar matchups – seems to indicate a competitive game Friday.
Lely defeated Mariner and Cypress Lake by a combined 41 points compared with Immokalee’s 47-point differential, while the Trojans and Indians both endured lopsided defeats to Class 6A power Naples. However, Lely went 0-2 with a minus-47 point differential against Golden Gate and Barron Collier; Immokalee split with the Titans and Cougars and had a plus-18 mark.
The Indians, who could not protect a 13-0 lead against Dunbar, are led in part by senior quarterback Mac Joseph, who passed for 115 yards and two touchdowns last week. Sophomore running back Fred Green had a touchdown reception and is among the team leaders in all-purpose yards.
A focused week of practice will certainly benefit Lely, which played one of its most disciplined games this season against Cypress Lake.
Sophomore quarterback Jacquez Carter helped lead an efficient offense as he accounted for three first-half touchdowns, including TD passes to sophomore teammates Jean Joseph and Taejon Wright. Lely’s defense and special teams also made big plays in a game where the Trojans led 27-0 after three quarters.
“I think our biggest thing was keeping them [the Panthers] in front of us,” St. Jean said. “We knew [running back Cliff Moore] was an explosive player – and he got away from us two or three times – but we tried to keep the big plays down. We wanted them to have a steady drive to beat us, so we tried to keep everything inside and in front of us.
“[Carter] got it done and he played well. He made smart decisions and he made a few adjustments that worked in our favor, but I think overall we just did a good job as Lely.”
Lely went four running backs deep on the depth chart. Calerb D’Haiti and Jerry Casimir were sidelined in the first quarter with apparent lower-body injuries, and that allowed senior Lik Estilien and sophomore Jason Jean to combine for 16 carries.
The 6-foot-4-inch Estilien, who has also played wide receiver and quarterback this season, rushed three times for 56 yards on Lely’s second scoring drive. He also outran the Cypress Lake defense for a 56-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
“I thought [the running back] replacements did a fine job for us,” St. Jean said.
St. Jean said the Trojans would evaluate the injury situation with the running backs as this week progressed, although D’Haiti did return in the second half against Cypress Lake and ran the ball five straight times on Lely’s opening possession.
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