Cape Coral coach Larry Gary had all the right words.
"Don't take this too hard, son," he said softly, while striding across the midfield stripe at a rapidly emptying Dave Warkentin Field. "This is a team game, believe me, and you're something else. You've got nothing to be ashamed of. This is just a part of sports."
Even though the sentiment was precise, its target - quarterback Dylan Bontrager - wasn't quite ready to accept the affirmation. Instead, the 5-foot-10 junior simply stood and stared as the gravity of the night's events, the Seahawks' 24-9 loss to Dunbar in a Class 5A District 14 showdown, set in.
"It hit me," Bontrager said, his reddened eyes portraying a mix of emotion and fatigue. "This was a playoff game for us. I had faith. I'm gonna remember it for a while. It's hard to let this one go."
The loss dropped the Seahawks to 6-3 overall and 3-2 in district play and all but eliminated them from the postseason, unless they get help in the final two weeks that even Gary admitted, "Let's face it, we're not gonna get."
Dunbar improved to 4-0 in the district heading into next weekend's game at unbeaten Island Coast (5-0). Cape High lost to both teams this season.
"We kissed that one away. We beat ourselves, you saw it," Gary said.
The frustration shared by coach and player illustrated the accuracy of his viewpoint.
Down just 12-7 at halftime, the Seahawks crossed into Dunbar territory on three of its first four possessions of the second half, including a march all the way to the Tigers' 2-yard line over 12 plays to begin the third quarter. That drive ended in sequential frustration, however, when consecutive runs by Eamon Smart, Jordan Lewis, Smart again and Bontrager failed to cross the goal line.
Drives two and three ended in punts after generating an inglorious total of minus 14 yards, and the fourth chance was snuffed out by a fumble on a botched exchange between Young and wildcat quarterback Rasheen Bailey. Dunbar's Caleb Stewart pounced on the loose ball, and, one play later, Tigers QB Daniel Cobb hit Bob Rice for a 15-yard TD pass with just 5:06 remaining.
That score ended a stretch of six straight stops strung together by the Seahawks defense, which had kept Dunbar off the board since the first quarter.
"I kept thinking, We've gotta score. We're gonna score," Bontrager said. "Every time there was a turnover or a stop or anything, we've gotta put the ball in the end zone. That's our job. I was thinking, We're scoring. I don't care, we're scoring."
A fumbled snap by Bontrager ended a subsequent Cape drive on the Tigers' 1-yard line with 2:57 left, though the Seahawks got two points back when Dunbar's Cobb was hauled down in the end zone 54 seconds later. Cape High took possession again following a free kick, but Bontrager's desperation fourth-down throw was picked off and returned for a 15-yard TD by Rasheed Golden.
He finished with nine completions in 26 attempts for 137 yards and one score, a 44-yarder to fellow junior Austin Cole.
"We couldn't capitalize. We didn't get the job done, bottom line," Gary said. "When we came out in the third quarter and we didn't score, I was hoping it wouldn't come back to haunt us. But it did."
Dunbar12 0 0 12 - 24
Cape Coral 0 7 0 2 - 9
D - Bronson 16 pass from Cobb (kick failed)
D - Cobb 40 run (pass failed)
CC - Cole 44 pass from Bontrager (Perez kick)
D - Rice 15 pass from Cobb (pass failed)
CC - Safety, Cobb tackled in end zone
D - Golden 15 interception return (pass failed)