October 13, 2008

91-0 game tough for both teams

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ESTERO, Fla. - The Estero High football staff gathered in head coach Rich Dombroski's office late Friday, almost in stunned silence.

Earlier that night, Estero lost to Naples High by 13.

Not by 13 points. By 13 touchdowns. That's right: Naples 91, Estero 0.

The rout fallout has been growing since the game ended.

"Hey," offered Estero defensive line coach Pat Hayes after the one-sided affair, "I didn't even know 91 was a multiple of seven."

With that, the coaches all got a much-needed laugh.

A half-hour away in Naples, Eagles coach Bill Kramer—the man on the winning end—could use one of those.

He looked at the scoreboard late in the game, saw 91-0, and said he felt sick to his stomach. Kramer's team ran only 31 plays and he kept most of his best players on the sideline—for the entire game in some cases. But still Kramer knew what was coming.

Soon after the game ended, his inbox began filling with angry e-mails, some from Estero parents wondering why so many points were necessary, some from Naples parents wondering why their kids didn't play more in an effort to pad their stats.

"There's only one way to describe it," Kramer said. "Just bizarre."

The schools aren't far off in size: Estero has about 1,400 high schoolers, Naples roughly 1,700.

But the pedigree of the football programs couldn't be more different.

Estero is rebuilding from the lowest level, with Dombroski in his first year at the school and having inherited a program that had simply crumbled. Naples is the reigning state Class 3A champion, and a contender to win the title again. Naples has players committed to Division I schools like Ohio State already and a roster filled with talent at every position. Estero has no college prospects and only about 25 healthy or so players remaining on its roster.

"Some of us, most of us, well, all of us were intimidated," said Tyler Eastridge, a free safety who may be exaggerating when he says he weighs a 150 pounds.

Naples led 70-0 at the half; only four of the 1,420 games reported by member schools to the Florida High School Athletic Association this season have seen teams score more than 70 points.

"It was David versus Goliath," Dombroski said, "and David didn't have a stone to throw."

The national record books are incomplete, but a score like 91-0 won't register a blip on the list of all-time defeats. It wasn't even the most lopsided score in the country this weekend—in Ohio, Beechcroft beat Centennial 96-0, taking knees on plays in the fourth quarter to avoid triple figures.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, five teams have scored more than 200 points in a game, with the record believed to be 256 by Haven (Ky.) High in 1927.

Dombroski isn't blaming Naples.

"Naples did absolutely nothing wrong," Dombroski said. "We just didn't do anything right."

Kramer has been in this spot before.

In 2001, the Golden Eagles scored 63 first-quarter points and beat Lely High — ironically, where Dombroski's girlfriend teaches today—85-0, and Kramer suddenly became the target of perceptions that he intentionally ran up the score.

But in that game, just as on Friday, Naples had some of its starters not play at all, and others just for one or two series.

"We've been through it before and you never want to go through it again," Kramer said. "There were people ready to burn my house."

It's an unsettling time again.

The Naples Daily News ran a poll asking if Kramer and his team "should be ashamed" over the result, and by Monday afternoon, the vote was nearly dead-even: 239 no, 225 yes.

Hearing that, even Dombroski shook his head. He e-mailed Kramer on Monday to reiterate that Naples did nothing wrong, but that's hardly the only opinion swirling around Naples these days.

"My daughter plays basketball and there's a local team that's really good and when they're about to score 100, there's no polls about that," Kramer said. "When the local lacrosse team wins 24-0, where's the outrage? Or when kids win 6-0, 6-0 in tennis? We score 10 touchdowns and everybody loses their minds.

"The real irony is we've got some of our parents upset that their kids didn't play or didn't play enough. And you just say, 'Wow."'

Dombroski knew when he took the Estero job that there would be days like Friday, but he said the 91-0 thumping might help him turn the program around.

"We won't forget this. I won't forget this," said Dombroski, whose freshman program is off to a 4-1-1 start this year, a sign that better days could be ahead for Estero. "We're not going to lay down. We're going to fight for 48 minutes, every time we're out there."

So on Monday afternoon, when school got out at 1:45, the Estero High football team headed to its locker room and prepared for practice. New scouting reports were waiting for them, and soon the team headed onto the field for practice, their blue jerseys whipping in the wind as they stretched.

"Our team might not be winning or might not be on top right now," said right guard Mike Perez. "But we all have to do the best we can do. We can't forget that."

And so, they were back to work, which they'll need. This week, Estero plays Cape Coral—a team that nearly beat Naples.

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