KEYS GRIDIRON SQUADS READY FOR HOME OPENERS AFTER ROAD LOSSES

Key West traveled to Clewiston to take on the Tigers on the southernmost shore of Lake Okeechobee. Though Conchs coach Johnny Hughes was pleased with his defense and felt confident his team could move the ball against anyone, turnovers cost the Conchs dearly. Some early-season miscues and jitters led to a total of seven reversals of fortune for Key West, with three inside the 15-yard line. “We dominated every stat,” Hughes said, “but turnovers and depth are a concern right now.” 

Though the 28-21 final score was not indicative of the Conchs’ potential, they proved they are a threat on the ground and in the air. For one of their three touchdowns, Adrian Mira connected with Brondson Etienne for 22 yards in one of Key West’s three touchdowns on the night. A long Jaden Fox run and an RJ Brown rocket sweep added two more.

To get into the win column, Key West will need to defeat IMG White out of Bradenton, Florida. Hughes explained that the all-star powerhouse school has three football teams – one at a national level, one state-level squad and one a more typical varsity team. And while Hughes and the Fighting Conchs will not have to see the national team across the line of scrimmage, they face the state-level unit, which is full of talent. 

“They have a big line and a 6’5” receiver,” Hughes said, adding that IMG will likely run a spread offense against his Conchs in The Backyard on Friday, Sept. 1. Though the teams have not played one another since 2017, Key West came out on top in that matchup and they hope to do the same Friday.

Marathon looked like the better team on Aug. 25, but it would not be the play of Pompano Beach that defeated the Fins. Six fumbles left points on the board, and Marathon lost by just one point in the final seconds of the game. Despite the disappointing outcome, coach Sean McDonald found some positives which he feels will only continue to grow. 

“Our team is so young and relatively inexperienced, so unlike most teams, freshmen and sophomores end up being contributing players here,” he said. “Jesus Gonzalez completed a pass to Daeshawn (Holmes) in his first attempt at throwing the ball in a game situation. That’s huge for a freshman.” 

McDonald also loved his team’s attitude, saying they are willing to work hard and learn and that their effort and desire are exactly where they need to be. 

“We just need more experience, and sometimes when you are earning that, you have games like we did on Friday,” he said. “You pick up and learn and get better.” 

Leading the stats for Marathon was Carlos Lezcano, who was 2-4 on completions for 37 yards in the air and racked up 101 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries on the ground. Lezcano was also credited with three tackles defensively. Tanner Ross had some key blocks and managed to pick up 62 yards offensively as well as 6 tackles. Fabbianho Louis Jeune had two carries for 26 yards and one touchdown, plus an incredible one-handed interception. Nolan O’Hara, a relative football newcomer, had three solo tackles and two sacks, giving Marathon some serious defensive weapons, which they will need on Sept. 1 when they play Somerset Silver Palms. 

Silver Palms has a highly-skilled offense loaded with year-round seven-on-seven players, and they love to air the ball out. Marathon prefers a more physical game on the ground, which should make for an interesting matchup in the Fins’ home opener. 

“We have been studying film and adjusting our play so we can match Silver Palms to the best of our ability,” McDonald said. “We really want to give the Marathon community a good showing because they have been so supportive of us.”

Coral Shores was on the road last week as well, playing True North Classical Academy at Tropical Park. The Titans have steadily built a solid program the past few seasons, and when asked if True North lived up to the hype, ‘Canes coach Ed Holly did not hesitate to acknowledge that they were, indeed, loaded with talent. 

“They had a really good football team with dynamic players on offense and defense, and they’re well-coached,” Holly said, adding, “I’m proud of the way the guys competed for 48 minutes on Friday.” 

It looked like it was going to be a closer game, with True North scoring first on a breakaway run, but Coral Shores kept their composure and AJ Putetti answered back with his own style of tough running. It would be the last score of the game for the Hurricanes, though, and True North’s larger roster, in both size and number, was just too much for Coral Shores. Coach Holly was undeterred by the loss and said that despite the score, his team is showing improvement and just may gel at the most opportune time. 

“We’re a work in progress,” Holly said. “We are getting better every week.” 

The ’Canes have a big game Sept. 1 against Palmer Trinity, a conference rival with a talented roster of their own. The Falcons of Palmer should be a tight matchup, as last season Palmer bested Coral Shores by just five points.

Tracy McDonald fled to the Keys from the frozen mountains of Pennsylvania hours after graduating from college and never looked back. She is a second generation coach and educator, and has taught in the public school system for over 25 years. She and her husband met at a beginning teacher meeting in 1997 and have three children born and raised in Monroe County. In her free time, McDonald loves flea markets, historical fiction and long runs in the heat.