When Marco Island Academy quarterback Kyler Howard found Bek Rahmonov wide open for a 38-yard touchdown pass with 4:28 left to play in a 37-8 loss to Pembroke Pines Charter on August 16 at Winterberry Park, the Rays sideline exploded in joy.
Scoring a touchdown is a big deal to a team coming off a winless season in 2018. Last year’s first score came in the fifth game of the season.
Even-keeled Rays head coach Steven Kaplan is philosophical with his inexperienced, undermanned squad. After the game he gathered his team under the goalpost in the east end zone and asked a number of his players to describe their favorite play of the game. Each player proudly recounted a positive play.
Kaplan’s positive approach—he doesn’t swear and demands the same from his players—may be what’s needed for a team that figures to be underdogs in most—if not all—of their games.
The academy has just 25 players listed on their roster. Only 15 suited up for the game. Only two, Howard and fullback/linebacker Peter Morales, are experienced. Several key players didn’t finish the game, ending up sidelined with injuries or cramps on a hot, humid midsummer night.
“A lot of guys got cramps,” Kaplan said. “We have low numbers so they’ve gotta play every down.”
Pembroke Pines scored after a long drive to start the game and take an 8-0 lead. The academy fought back with a long drive of their own, but were unable to score.
“First quarter, we were fighting,” Kaplan said. “If we would have held them on their first drive, or scored to match them, it could have been a whole different ball game. It just got away from us.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Kaplan said, “but our kids fought hard, kept playin’, didn’t quit. We scored in the fourth quarter. So I’m proud of them for that. But we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The academy had a number of nice running plays, by Morales and Howard. Several of Howard’s passes were dropped. Kaplan was happy to recall the academy’s play of the game.
“Kyler Howard saw the blitz coming and he knew they were covering the tight end, so he knew the pop pass was open,” Kaplan said. “He called the play. He looked at me and said, ‘I’ve got this.” And I said, ‘Go.’ He’s a very intelligent, very talented kid.”
The academy travels to Winter Haven to take on All Saints Academy on Friday, August 23. Their home opener will be a Week Three game against Gateway Charter of Ft. Myers.