All the elements of a homecoming celebration were there.
Girls wore dresses. Mothers snapped pictures. Sidelines were teeming with ex-players returning to the scene of their high school glory. In fact, the only element not in place for the perfect party atmosphere was the sacrificial lamb opponent.
Instead, Ida Baker was pushed to the very last play - literally - before finally stamping out the challenge presented by a determined Riverdale team 33-28 Friday night in a surprise that left Bulldogs coach Brian Conn loudly searching for answers in the post-game huddle.
Ida Baker senior quarterback Sage Attwood looks for an open receiver during the Bulldogs' win over Riverdale Friday night. More photos are available online at: cu.cape-coral-daily-breeze.com.
"We've lost whatever football mentality we had," he said. "We were really just going through the motions. We'd make a big play and we'd walk back to the huddle. They'd make a big play and we'd walk back to the huddle. We've got to start playing with more excitement. That kind of performance is not going to make you district champions."
It almost, in the end, cost them a place among the unbeaten.
Baker stretched a seemingly comfortable lead to 33-14 on Filander Barahona's 31-yard field goal with 10:48 remaining in the final quarter, but the kick was answered by a 14-play, 61-yard drive that ended with Byron Dean's three-yard scoring run with 4:39 to play.
Jesse Lighthall's pass provided the two-point conversion and, following a five-play Bulldogs possession that ended in a punt, Riverdale again responded. This time QB Lighthall hit Ryan Pulley with a 31-yard strike on a perfectly executed seam route.
Only 8.8 seconds remained, but after the Raiders misfired on another two-point try, Baker was only a recovered onside kick away from graduating to 4-0.
Those plans were foiled when Brian Abrams' cross-field hopper bounced off a Bulldogs up man and was grabbed by Pulley, who ran 20 yards down a delirious Riverdale sideline before officials ruled he could not advance the ball.
Six seconds were put back on the game clock and the Raiders immediately went for the home run ball from midfield. With Lighthall sending a floater toward the right pylon headed in the vicinity of 6-foot-3 senior William Rogers, it was swatted away by the timely right hand of Baker defensive back Roy Denson.
Offsetting flags were thrown at the line of scrimmage, one for holding, one for a personal foul giving Riverdale a final snap, but it went nowhere as Lighthall's toss to Van Edwards fell short.
Finally, nearly three hours after the opening kick, Denson could exhale.
"Honestly, we could have had a lot better game, but we made a lot of mistakes," he said. "They capitalized on our mistakes, which made it a close game, but we should have had a better game."
The Bulldogs ran 51 plays for 356 total yards while scoring all but three of their points in the first half. They had the ball just three times in the second half, kicking the field goal, punting once and turning the ball over once on downs. Baker had 11 penalties in the first half, five more in the second.
Meanwhile, the Raiders had TD drives of 14 and 13 plays after the intermission, in addition to a 13-play possession that ended on downs. This after a first half in which they ran just 23 plays for 139 yards, punted twice and had another punt attempt botched by a dropped snap.
"There are a lot of guys who are doing all the work and a lot of guys who are standing around watching," Conn said. "That second half was all about the effort. It felt like we had no enthusiasm or excitement. You're allowed some bumps in the road, and now it's all about how you respond to those bumps."
The Bulldogs (4-0) travel to Estero next Friday.
Riverdale 7 7 0 14 - 28
Ida Baker10 20 0 3 - 33
IB - FG, 34 Barahona
R - Pulley 14 pass from Lighthall (Abrams kick)
IB - Hoagland 11 pass from Attwood (Barahona kick)
IB - Attwood 6 run (Barahona kick)
IB - Febles 20 run (run failed)
R - Edwards 60 run (Abrams kick)
IB - Attwood 1 run (Barahona kick)
IB - FG, 31 Barahona
R - Dean 3 run (Pulley pass)
R - Pulley 31 pass from Lighthall (run failed)