FORT MYERS — South Fort Myers puts a lot of emphasis on special teams.
So much so that head coach Grant Redhead personally goes over punting and punt block with his team for almost half an hour every practice.
The hours of tedious repetition paid off Friday in the Class 3A-Region 3 championship. With the Wolfpack's offense abnormally sluggish, South turned to its explosive special teams to lead it to a 28-21 victory over Bradenton-Southeast.
South Fort Myers (12-0) won its first regional championship and plays Friday at Miami-Norland in the 3A semifinals. The Wolfpack are one win away from playing for a state title in the 3A finals Dec. 17 in Orlando.
After tying the regional final two minutes earlier on a fake punt-turned-touchdown reception, South's Sammy Watkins returned a punt 58 yards with 1:08 remaining for the go-ahead touchdown.
It was the second game-winning touchdown in as many weeks for Watkins, a U.S. Army All-American who is committed to Clemson. The 6-foot-2 receiver scored on a 78-yard pass with less than two minutes to play against Naples last week in the regional semifinals.
“I did one of these,” said Watkins, pointing to the sky in prayer, about his punt return touchdown. “I told my teammates to hold their blocks, and I was going to score, and they did.”
Southeast gave it one last gasp. Keyed by a 46-yard pass on first down, the Seminoles had a first down at South's 16 with 25 seconds left. An incompletion on fourth down with less than 10 seconds left, however, sealed the Wolfpack's first regional championship.
On the final play, Southeast quarterback Dyron Speight scrambled left before firing a rocket into the end zone. A diving Antonio Ray grabbed the ball just past the goal line, but the officials ruled the pass incomplete.
Watkins' electric touchdown run, in which he reversed field twice and made nearly half the Seminoles' team miss, wouldn't have been possible if not for a gutsy call earlier.
South Fort Myers scored twice in the game's first 13 minutes, then went more than two quarters without a point. With three minutes to go, the Wolfpack stalled deep in its own territory down 21-14.
On fourth down at South's own 31-yard line with 14 yards to go, Redhead ordered up a fake punt. Quarterback Dallas Crawford fielded the direct snap and hit Watkins on a short pass that the receiver took 69 yards to tie the game.
Redhead, who calls the special teams plays, said there was no hesitation.
“I knew I was going for it,” Redhead said. “I just told (the team), 'We're going to fake it and throw it to Sammy.'”
The head coach's assuredness spread to his players, who said the confidence came from the amount of time they spent each week working on punting.
“Coach Redhead is so hands on with the special teams,” Crawford said. “We practice that 20 minutes a day, at least.”
Crawford finished with 219 passing yards and three touchdowns. Watkins had three receptions for 110 yards and two scores. The Division I duo (Crawford is headed to Michigan to play defensive back) have connected for five touchdowns the past two weeks.
The fake punt, however, only tied the score. To get the ball back, the Wolfpack would have to rely on its defense, which had trouble stopping Southeast all night.
The Seminoles gained 386 yards on South, the most the Wolfpack defense has allowed all season. When Southeast got the ball with the score tied and three minutes left, though, South rose to the occasion.
The Wolfpack forced the Seminoles to go three-and-out. The ensuing punt landed around midfield and bounced, unfortunately for Southeast, right into Watkins' arms at his own 42.
Crawford said he knew Watkins was gone as soon as he reversed direction around the 50-yard line. By the time the speedy receiver had gotten to the 5, three Southeast defenders had cornered him near the sideline. Watkins stopped dead in his tracks, though, and shot to the right, waltzing pass every Seminole and into the end zone.
“If you put (Watkins) one-on-one with anybody in the country, he's gone,” Crawford said. “He's electrifying. The best high school football player in the country, in my opinion.”
South took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, but Southeast tied it with two touchdowns, the last with 14 seconds to play in the half. The Seminoles then took the lead with 21 seconds left in the third quarter when Brian Poole scored on a fourth-and-two play.
South Fort Myers 28, Bradenton-Southeast 21
SE 0 14 7 0 – 21
SFM 7 7 0 14 – 28
SFM – Smith 5 pass from Crawford (Kammerlocher kick), 6:02.
SFM – Blanks 33 pass from Crawford (Kammerlocher kick), 11:05.
SE – Speight 1 run (Clark kick), 6:30
SE – Ray 8 pass from Speight (Clark kick), 0:14.
SE – Poole 2 run (Clark kick), 0:21.
SFM – Watkins 69 pass from Crawford (Kammerlocher kick), 3:19.
SFM – Watkins 58 punt return (Kammerlocher kick), 1:08.
2010 PREPZONE FOOTBALL: WEEK 14
- South Fort Myers pulls out 3A regional final win over Bradenton-Southeast
- South's Sammy Watkins comes up big again in regional final
- Miami-Norland rallies past Archbishop McCarthy to face South Fort Myers
- Southeast impressed with South Fort Myers heading into Friday's game
- Hall-of-Famer Hampton has hand in South Fort Myers' success
- Tickets for Southeast-South Fort Myers game on sale Wednesday
- Experienced Bradenton-Southeast known for pulling out close games
- Debonis' leadership key in South's win over Naples
- South Fort Myers puts up big effort on big stage
VIDEO AND PHOTOS:
- Video: Southeast vs. South Fort Myers interviews
- Video: Quarter 1 South Fort Myers vs. Bradenton-Southeast Highlights
- Video: Quarter 2 South Fort Myers vs. Bradenton-Southeast Highlights
- Video: Quarter 3 South Fort Myers vs. Bradenton-Southeast Highlights
- Video: Quarter 4 South Fort Myers vs. Bradenton-Southeast Highlights
- Photo Gallery: South Fort Myers vs. Bradenton-Southeast
- Your Photos: South Fort Myers Fan Photos
- Your Photos: South Fort Myers Band Photos
- Your Photos: Bradenton-Southeast Band Photos
- Coach Web's Game of the Week: South Fort Myers vs. Bradenton-Southeast
- Between The Hashes: South Fort Myers vs. Bradenton-Southeast
- Photo Gallery: Naples vs. South Fort Myers
- Photo Gallery: Naples vs. South Fort Myers fans & bands
- Photo Gallery: Bradenton-Southeast vs. Winterhaven
- Watch the video: South Fort Myers stuns Naples 28-21
- Video: Players React to South Fort Myers victory
- First Quarter action from Naples vs. South Fort Myers
- Second Quarter action from Naples vs. South Fort Myers
- Third Quarter action from Naples vs. South Fort Myers
- Fourth Quarter action from Naples vs. South Fort Myers
PRE-GAME COVERAGE FROM "THE HUDDLE"
- South Fort Myers needs defense to lead it to regional title
- Wolfpack face historically powerful program in Southeast
- South Fort Myers proves it's a title contender
- Everything Prep Football in "The Huddle" Blog