NORTH FORT MYERS — When everything was going wrong for Charlotte on Friday night, Kris McNealy and Connor Trim were there to put things right.
The linebacker duo massed 164 rushing yards on 32 carries and Trim scored three touchdowns as Charlotte pulled out a 31-18 must-win against a district foe.
While Trim was piling up the points, it was McNealy putting him in position to due so – on offense and defense. The junior had 15 carries for 77 yards and two huge interceptions, including one late in the game to set up Trim’s final, put-away score with 91 seconds remaining.
Trim finished with 87 yards on 17 carries. Add in Keon Jones’ 52 rushing yards at quarterback as well as a couple of Brayan Augustin jet sweeps, and Charlotte totaled 235 yards on the ground.
“Those two guys came up big right there,” Tarpons coach Wade Taylor said. “Everybody knows those are two of our stud linebackers filling in back there.”
That a put-away score was needed was a bit of an upset, considering the Tarpons led 21-3 at halftime. As has happened all season, the Tarpons (3-1) fell flat coming out of the intermission and let the Red Knights (2-3) back into the game.
“The third quarter is our nemesis,” Tarpons coach Wade Taylor said. “That’s our bad guy right there.”
This week, it was the penalty flag that short-circuited Charlotte’s momentum. The Tarpons were flagged 13 times for 125 yards in the game, but on one drive in the third quarter, they were called for five penalties, two of which wiped out consecutive Jones touchdowns.
If either of those two scores were allowed, Charlotte would have taken a 28-3 lead. Instead, North Fort Myers took advantage of the reprieve and marched for its first touchdown, then tacked on a two-point conversion to pull within 21-11.
A holding penalty blew up Charlotte’s ensuing drive and the Red Knights promptly scored again to pull within 21-18 late in the third quarter.
From there, the Charlotte defense rediscovered its mojo and knocked down North Fort Myers’ big-play running game. A Tyler Amaral field goal gave Charlotte a 24-18 lead, then McNealy picked off a Red Knights’ fourth-down pass to set up Trim’s icing score.
“He came up big,” Taylor said of McNealy. “Those are times when players have to step up and make plays. That was the time we needed it to happen.”
Key plays: None come bigger than McNealy’s second interception of the game. With Charlotte clinging to the one-score lead, his pick and subsequent return to the North Fort Myers red zone allowed Charlotte some breathing room. … Charlotte’s other score came on a 12-yard pass from Jones to Augustin, which gave Charlotte a 14-0 lead. … Amaral had a pair of field-flipping punts in the second half, both pinning North Fort Myers inside their own 20 with one being downed at the 8.
Key stats: Jones also had 74 passing yards, completing five passes to Augustin for 61 yards and a touchdown. … Charlotte held North Fort Myers to just 121 total yards in the first half, which aided the offense’s quick start.
What it means: This was a must-win game from a playoff standpoint for Charlotte. While that might sound weird considering it was just the second game of the district season, an 0-2 start would have been disastrous from an RPI standpoint. Missing out what would have been a big win at Cypress Lake, combined with the remaining schedule could have left the Tarpons on the outside looking in for one of the region’s four wild-card spots.
Quote: “He’s a very quiet young man. He’s not flashy but I will say this: His leadership is becoming more and more and more. The one thing he is doing is we’re moving the ball and we’re not making mistakes. He’s managing the game. That’s more important right now for us as a team. Knocking mistakes down and taking advantage of situations.” — Wade Taylor on Jones’ play at quarterback.