Claws Scratch by Jaws in First-Annual Showdown

The Bonita Bull Sharks were one play away from spoiling Estero’s homecoming.

With the Bull Sharks trailing the Wildcats 17-14 late in the fourth quarter, Bonita started a drive on its own eight-yard-line and methodically moved the ball down field into the Claws’ red zone. With one minute and 20 seconds left to play, the Jaws were faced with a fourth down and five. Coach Rich Dombroski had a decision to make: attempt a field goal, which could tie the game, or go for it all, and try to win the first-annual Jaws versus Claws showdown in front of a packed house Friday night at Jeff Sommer Stadium.

Dombroski decided to go for the win.

The next play, Bonita quarterback Xavier Estrada dropped back and threw a fade route to the corner of the end zone, but it landed just out of the reach of his receiver. Estero escaped with a 17-14 win.

“We gave them the game in the first half,” Dombroski said. “Without our own mistakes in the first half, we win this game. But it’s learning experience, and it’s a great opportunity for our kids to learn from.”

In the first-ever varsity football clash between the neighboring schools, Bonita Springs Mayor Peter Simmons and Estero Mayor Bill Ribble met on the 50-yard-line for the pregame ceremonial coin toss. In addition, representatives from both city councils were present, and BSHS Principal Jeff Estes Jr. returned to watch from the sideline of his alma-mater where he once played saxophone in the Estero marching band. 

"The atmosphere was electrifying," Estes said. " I haven’t seen a crowd that large in Estero’s Stadium since the 1990s when Estero and Fort Myers were the perennial powerhouse programs.  As a 25 year Bonita/Estero resident, former graduate and employee of EHS, and principal of BSHS it is extra gratifying.  I love being part of the creation of this event and love seeing how it did, and will continue to, pull our two communities together.  I can foresee this becoming the largest attended event annually for our cities." 

It was also the tale of two halves; the Claws controlled the first two quarters, and the Jaws mounted a thrilling comeback in the second.  

Estero struck first with a 13-yard TD pass with 1:34 remaining in the first quarter. The Wildcats then recovered the ensuing onside kick, which led to a field goal and an early 10-0 edge.

Midway through the second quarter, the Bull Sharks muffed a punt, and Estero took advantage.  Another 13-yard pass from Estero QB Jack Zigler put the Wildcats in front 17-0.

“You give up an onside kick and muff a punt and it creates a deep hole to climb out of,” Dombroski added. “But I take responsibility. I didn’t prepare the kids well enough to play this game in a tight situation.”

But just when it seemed like Estero might run away with it, the Bull Sharks responded. Bonita drove 60 yards down to the three-yard-line before Alex Futch punched it in the end zone for their first score, cutting the Wildcat lead to 17-7.  

From then on, the Jaws dominated. Led by a smothering defense, which flew to the football all night long, Bonita brought the Estero offense to a standstill.

“The defense was phenomenal all game long,” Dombroski said. “On offense, it took us a while to get going.”  

The play of the defense gave a huge confidence boost to the young Bull Sharks, who are in their first varsity season since the new school opened. With five-minutes to play in the third, Futch added his second TD of the night, this time on a sweep from two yards out, which sliced the lead to 17-14.

The Bull Sharks’ defense again shut down Estero’s offense on the next drive, forcing a punt, which landed on the Bonita eight-yard-line. With one last shot, the offense converted two third downs and got two big runs from Dan Matamos, who ended up with more than 100 yards from scrimmage.

The Jaws drove into the Claws red zone, but Estrada’s fourth-down pass just missed.

The Jaws versus Claws trophy will be inscribed with the game’s score, and Estero will keep it in its gym … that is, at least until next year when the two teams meet again.

Asked what the difference in next year’s Jaws versus Claws battle can be when the Bull Sharks have a senior class, Dombroski was optimistic.

“We just need to keep believing in what we are doing. Every guy needs to do his job. We dug ourselves a hole tonight, but now we know we are as good as they are.” 

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