In a pivotal game to decide the District 5A-11 championship, the Cape Coral Seahawks squeaked by the Lehigh Lightning 8-7 Friday night at Dave Warkentin Field.
The kickoff was delayed for 30 minutes because of lightning in the area. The rain had started long before the kickoff and continued throughout the game, actually becoming heavier as it wore on.
What that meant for both teams was the running game became more prevalent and the passing game diminished.
"On a night like tonight, every pass you throw up is a hope," said Seahawks coach Brad Metheny. "Our original game plan was to line up with four or five wideouts every play, but obviously that was changed because of the weather."
The game turned into a defensive battle as both offenses were stymied by the other's defense. The first 20 minutes each team held the ball for only a short time, then punted it away, hoping the other team would make a mistake.
Lehigh's break came on Cape's third possession. Cape quarterback Kurt Benkert threw a quick pass in the flat to T.J. Jiles who started up field, but as he tried to switch the ball to his other hand, it was stripped and the Lightning's Malik Simmons picked it up and rambled 35 yards into the end zone. With the extra point, Lehigh led 7-0. That was the only scoring in the first half.
The Seahawks came close once. On fourth-and-goal at the 5, Benkert tried to run it in, but was stopped at the 3.
The second half continued the defensive battle. Cape took the second half kickoff and got into the Lehigh red zone at the 13. The Lightning stiffened, and the Seahawks came away empty.
Lehigh ran 13 plays and consumed over half of the third quarter clock, gaining one first down on a gutsy fourth-and-two run at their own 31. Still, Cape's defense forced them to punt it away.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Cape held again. Lehigh lined up to punt, but Cape feared it was a fake. The snap went over the punter's head and the ball was downed at the Lehigh 22.
The Seahawks were stopped on three consecutive plays, losing five yards and faced fourth-and-15 at the 27. Benkert lofted a ball high toward the end zone. Jiles grabbed it over the Lightning defenders for the score.
"The key was to get behind the defenders," said Jiles. "It was a perfect pass, where the defenders couldn't get it, but I could."
Then came the key play in the game. Cape initially lined up to kick the extra point, but Metheny called timeout. Cape lined up in the swinging door for a potential two-point conversion. When the Lightning shifted the Seahawks moved back into kick formation. Lehigh was drawn offsides. Benkert plunged in and stretched the ball just over the goal line for the two-point conversion, and the victory 8-7.
"The game ball has to go to our defense," said Metheny. "Lehigh is big and physical. All year long we've been relying on our offense. Our defense carried us tonight."
Cape is in the driver's seat for the district championship, and can clinch it with a win at East Lee County next Friday night.
Lehigh 0 7 0 0 - 7
Cape Coral 0 0 0 8 - 8
L - Malik Simmons 35 fumble return (Chris Ludwig kick)
CC - T.J. Jiles 27 pass from Kurt Benkert (Benkert run)