The game had barely been over for 15 minutes.
Already, tucked into a darkened coaches' room a few steps from where his Island Coast players were stowing their gear and heading for the exits, Joe Bowen was searching for answers.
"The wheels fell off," he said softly, as a laptop projected images of the Gators' maddening 32-14 loss to visiting Ida Baker onto a wall-sized screen. "It was a snowball effect.
Ida Baker senior defensive back Trayvon Clarke (2) avoids a tackler as he returns a 4th quarter interception that capped off the Bulldogs' road victory over Island Coast Friday night. More photos are available online at: cu.cape-coral-daily-breeze.com.
"Once it started, it just never seemed like the bleeding would ever stop," he said.
The hemorrhaging he lamented occurred largely in the third quarter, which began with the hosts holding a 14-3 lead they'd earned in a bloodless first half - and ended 12 clock minutes later with the Bulldogs leading 25-14, thanks to touchdowns on three of first four post-intermission possessions.
Island Coast's first four possessions, meanwhile, ended in punt, fumble, fumble and punt.
In addition to the mistake-fest from his opponents, the decisive stretch was also a showcase for the unique skills of Baker quarterback Sage Attwood, who jumped, jived and wailed his way to five completions in six attempts, including two for touchdowns, in the third quarter alone.
He hit senior Roy Denson on a 39-yarder to set up a two-yard plunge by Alex Febles that cut the Bulldogs' deficit from 11 points to four just 2:06 after the break. Then, following Febles' 20-yard scoring run that provided the game's first lead change at 5:21, he connected with senior Geordan Hoagland on a 27-yarder to push the advantage to 11 and confirm that the team's halftime wake-up call was received.
"Ever since I came here as a freshman, we've always been a second-half team," said Attwood, a 6-foot-1, 187-pounder with a southpaw delivery and a shifty set of legs. "We don't really get in our zone until that second half. Once we came out and did our thing, that's how it came out: 32-14."
Attwood and yet another receiver, this time senior Johnny Garrow, completed the scoring just more than two minutes into the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs shifted out of a fourth-down field goal alignment and Attwood rolled to his left before throwing across his body to Garrow, who came free when Gators defender Theodore Mitchell overran the play near the pylon at the right front corner of the end zone.
It was the 11th completion of the night for Attwood, who finished 13-of-19 for 185 yards.
"The offense was as nervous as can be (in the first half) and we weren't making the plays that we know we can make," Bulldogs coach Brian Conn said to his players, who compiled three points on 25 plays before the break and 29 points on 39 plays after. "If we're going to be district champs we've got to play two halves. That second half, that's the team that you guys really are."
Island Coast, which defeated East Lee County 41-0 in its preseason opener last weekend, led 14-0 after its first two drives against the Bulldogs, ending the first when junior quarterback Quinn Bourque went in from 12 yards and the second when junior running back Eric Russaw scored on a 31-yarder.
Its final three drives of the half ended with a punt, a fumble and the intermission whistle; while the remaining possessions in the game after the aforementioned third-quarter struggles went fumble, fumble, loss on downs, punt and interception. In all, the Gators committed six turnovers and gained just 22 total yards in the second half after racking up 208 in the first.
"The players right now understand they just got beat pretty bad," Bowen said. "I'm going to let it soak in, and then Monday we'll go from there."
Ida Baker 0 3 22 7 - 32
Island Coast 14 0 0 0 - 14
IC - Bourque 12 run (Bourque kick)
IC - Russaw 31 run (Bourque kick)
IB - FG, Barahona 29
IB - Febles 2 run (Barahona kick)
IB - Febles 20 run (Barahona kick)
IB - Hoagland 27 pass from Attwood (Febles run)
IB - Garrow 11 pass from Attwood (Barahona kick)