In a crucial matchup of District 6A-11 leaders, the South Fort Myers Wolfpack went to Island Coast Friday night and came away a 14-7 winner on a two-yard touchdown run by D'Ronzjiah Mathews in the final two minutes.
"Every game is a must-win game now," said Island Coast coach Joe Bowen. "That has to be our mentality going forward."
With two tough defenses on display, points were hard to come by.
South's offense got off to a quick start behind quarterback Andrew Dalidonis, who completed four of five passes on the game's opening drive, including a 21-yard screen to wide receiver Jalen White to take a quick lead.
The Gators tried to catch South off guard by starting out in their "wildcat" formation. The defense was prepared, though, bottling up running back Mario Pender for two negative gains and forcing a three-and-out.
The Gators defense tightened up after the opening drive, nearly intercepting Dalidonis twice, but the incompletions led to a punt.
With South's defense stifling Pender early, the Gators went to their seldom-used passing attack to gain some yards. It appeared to work as quarterback Michael Dumas found a receiver downfield, but a big hit by defensive back Nate Dortch jarred the ball loose.
The Wolfpack offense was on the move again late in the first quarter, but a fake punt at midfield failed as Gator linebacker Louis King darted in and tackled the ball carrier short of the first down.
King made another big play when fellow linebacker Willie Fleming forced a fumble that King recovered on the bottom of the pile. The fumble recovery gave the Gators great field position, but the drive stalled at the Wolfpack 5-yard line on a failed fourth down.
Pender finally made a play for the Gators, with a punt return to the South 31-yard line. After two Pender carries the Gators were on the goal line looking to tie the game. After being denied three times, Fleming took the handoff and dove over the line to tie the game 7-7.
The Gators came out in the second half determined to get their running game going. Seven straight carries by Pender moved them from their own 30-yard line to South's 33. Facing a third-and-four, Pender got the call, but a botched toss led to a 12-yard loss and another punt.
Pender finished the game with 21 carries for 53 yards, and just 19 yards in the second half.
The game would continue to be a see-saw battle of defenses until midway through the fourth quarter. Facing a third-and-10, the Wolfpack appeared to be headed for another punt. As the Gators swarmed Dalidonis, the quarterback flipped a shovel pass to White, who dashed 22 yards across midfield.
On another third down, when a bad snap was picked up by Dalidonis, he managed to find White again, at the 16-yard line. A facemask penalty put the ball inside the 10 where a few plays later running back D'Ronzjiah Mathews crossed the goal line, giving South a 14-7 lead with a little over two minutes left.
An Island Coast comeback ended when South defensive back Kenny Bishop intercepted a deep pass.
Island Coast (6-2) and South (5-2) are tied atop the district standings at 4-1. The Gators play at Riverdale next Friday night while the Wolfpack travels to Charlotte.
South FM7 0 0 7 - 14
Island Coast0 7 0 0 - 7
SFM - Jalen White 21 pass from Andrew Dalidonis (Connor Kammerlocher kick)
IC - Willie Fleming 1 run (Kevin Vigne kick)
SFM - D'Ronzjiah Mathews 2 run (Kammerlocher kick)