This was not the ending fans of Charlotte High School had in mind for a magical 2015 football season that witnessed their Fightin’ Tarpons enter Friday night’s regional final against Naples High School with a perfect 12-0 record.
After a pair of playoff victories over Osceola-Seminole and Port Charlotte at home, the road proved less welcoming against a two-time state champion. Coach Binky Waldrop‘s squad fell 35-0 to a powerful Golden Eagles team that now travels to meet Miami-Central in the FHSAA semi-finals for Class 6A.
Permitting critical third-down conversions emerged as the story of the night for the Tarpons. On multiple occasions during the game’s first-half, Charlotte appeared on the verge of making a stop, only to yield a big play or commit an ill-timed penalty, which rapidly turned into seven points.
Though Naples’ senior running back Carlin Fils-Aime was relatively contained with 108 yards on the ground, the University of Tennessee recruit did post the first score on a 27-yard 1st quarter scamper. What surprisingly followed was dominant play from Naples senior quarterback Kieran Digiorno, who enjoyed the top performance of his season by completing 9 of 13 passes for 198 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Two Digiorno touchdowns targeted sophomore wide-receiver Wooby Theorck, while a 5-yard toss to junior tight-end Chris Hanlon only seven seconds before halftime to build a 21-0 edge appeared to serve as the deflating moment for the packed visitors section at Staver Filed. Another aerial touchdown showcased senior wide-receiver Tyler Bird, who took a short screen pass and used a burst of speed to prevent would-be tacklers from standing in the way of the end-zone and increasing the lead to 28-0 early in the 3rd quarter.
The University of Miami commit grabbed another highlight reel catch, but the two-way player did not need to stand out in this one. Byrd largely blanketed Charlotte’s leading receiver Stantley Thomas, but constant pressure from Naples at the line of scrimmage prevented any real threat of moving the ball downfield.
In contrast to Digiorno’s breakout performance, Charlotte senior quarterback Brennan Simms endured the worst game of his Tarpons’ career. The two-year starter completed only 6 of 17 throws for 80 yards.
Losing the battle in the trenches, Charlotte equally failed to mount offense on the ground, as senior rusher and University of South Florida commit Elijah Mack was shockingly limited to 20 rushing yards. And while depth may have proven helpful, Tarpons’ junior running back/linebacker Maleek Williams missed his second-consecutive game with a bruised thigh. Charlotte crossed into the Naples side of the field on just two occasions and the team never seriously threatened to put points on the scoreboard.
Though the sting of defeat is always bitter, the 2015 campaign must be considered a success for the Fightin’ Tarpons. Returning to the regional finals for the first time since 2010, Charlotte claimed a district championship, highlighted by four shutouts, numerous running clocks, and one-sided victories over rivals Port Charlotte and Fort Myers. In fact, with 12 consecutive wins, the potent Tarpons consistently dazzled for their loyal supporters on every game night of the fall but this one.
Coach Waldrop capably summed up how the special group will be remembered: “They should walk off the field very proud. I’m extremely proud of the way this team has come together. The kids just absolutely love each other. They play hard for each other. They fight for each other. We have a lot of fun with this group. It’s sad that it’s winding down for them, but a lot of these relationships will go on for a lifetime. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
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