When you’re fielding a team of 15 players, a handful of them freshmen, laughs and good times can sometimes be in short supply—especially when you’re on the short end of a 55-28 score. However, on a rainy Senior Night, Friday, October 2, at Winterberry Field, players, coaches, cheerleaders and parents alike were in high spirits because of the size of the fight in their outmanned squad.
Southwest Florida Christian was a bigger, more experienced aggregation, with a roster of 42 players, but they left the island knowing they were in a battle.
“To have as little numbers as they have, they play as hard as anybody we’ve played against this year,” said Bill Moore, Southwest Florida Christian’s Head Coach. “I have all the respect in the world for that group over there.”
SFC got off to a 34-6 halftime lead, but the Rays refused to fold. In the face of adversity—and a running clock that kicks in when the point differential reaches 35—the Rays battled back all night.
“We made some great plays out there,” said MIA Head Coach Steven Kaplan, “it was exciting. Some big hits out there, on both sides of the ball. A very physical game; I enjoyed it. I was happy with the way the kids played. They did not give up. They never give up. We kept coming back.”
It would have been easy for the Rays to fold the tent after falling behind 28-0 with 10:26 remaining in the second quarter.
Instead, the Rays answered with a touchdown of their own with 5:51 to go in the half.
SFC scored again with eight seconds left in the half to go up 35-6 at halftime. A running clock seemed imminent.
Instead, the Rays came back renewed in the second half and cut the lead to 35-14 when quarterback Kyler Howard reached the ball over the goal line on a quarterback sneak with 8:15 left in the third quarter. Nick Vergo ran around his left end for the two-point conversion.
“Kyler Howard is the best kid I’ve ever coached,” Kaplan said. “He’s got a high football IQ. He does it all. He calls his own plays, he reads everything. He’s the real deal. He’s special. He’s a senior and we’re going to miss him.”
The Kings stretched their lead to 41-14 with 2:55 left in the third quarter, and added another with 9:41 remaining in the fourth quarter to go up 48-14, but the Rays fought back.
Less than two minutes later, Peter Morales rumbled 35 yards for a touchdown with 7:54 left in the game. Howard ran for the two-point conversion and the Rays were within 48-22.
“Peter Morales had a great football game,” Kaplan said. “There’s nothing to tackle on Peter. He’s low to the ground, fast, quick. He got through the hole—and who’s going to tackle him? Nobody. He’s like a tank.”
The Kings added another TD and extra point to stretch their lead to 55-22 with 2:45 left in the game. But still, the Rays refused to quit.
Howard scored a final touchdown for the Rays, much to the delight of their supporters.
“We’re going to miss all of our seniors,” Kaplan said. “We have eight seniors. Matthew Vergo played fantastic. Great defensively and catching big passes. Our offensive line, Keaton Ashby, number 77, played outstanding. He’s been quiet the whole year, but steady. A fantastic football player. Defensively he fights off the guy across from him. Those were some fastbacks—fast, quick and slippery.”
The Rays play their final game of the season when they travel to take on St. John Neumann. The Rays fall to 0-4, the Kings improve to 2-3.