FORT MYERS -- When Edwitch Merisier's final pass fluttered into Michael Collins' hands, the defensive back wasn't thinking about how Palmetto had avoided another close loss to start the season.
The Tigers began 2014 with three losses by a combined six points, and when Collins erased Fort Myers' final threat, he ensured 2015 would start better. But he wanted to make this pick an exclamation point on a 31-21, season-opening win at late Saturday Sam Sirianni Field at Edison Stadium.
"That's all I was thinking," Collins said. "Score."
He broke 40 yards down the Palmetto sideline as his teammates celebrated alongside him. The Tigers sealed up a 10-point win in Fort Myers, erasing a penalty-ridden first half with three interceptions during the Green Wave's final three meaningful possessions. Fort Myers wound up with only 221 total yards despite getting 121 on the ground from Darrian Felix.
A single play on the Green Wave's first drive of the game gave the three-star prospect nearly half of those yards. Felix took his first carry of the season up the middle and cut out for the left side. Once he slashed through the linebackers, the junior was gone for a 60-yard score and 7-0 Fort Myers lead.
Felix needed 16 more carries to get his final 61 yards and the Green Wave, who lost all but eight starters from last year's 12-1 team, could never establish a passing game to take pressure off its star.
"We realized that we had to get it together," Collins said. "Our boys just had heart. That's all it takes."
Isyah Funk, after erupting for three touchdowns in Palmetto's preseason game against Sarasota Booker, scored three more times to pace the Tigers' offense. The first came one play from scrimmage after Felix's enthusiastic opening statement.
Funk's run was even bet
ter. He got his first official touch with the Tigers on Palmetto's first offensive play of the season and burst through the center of the defense for a 62-yard touchdown. Less than a minute into the game, both teams had long runs to put the ball into the end zone.
Both defenses steadied after, and Funk found paydirt enough for the Tigers to open their season with a win.
"Offensively we did just enough," head coach Dave Marino said. "We came out with that opening drive and really got some momentum going for our defense to have something to fight for."
His next touchdown came on Palmetto's opening possession of the second half. Palmetto committed nine penalties for 78 yards in the first half and nearly had its first drive in the second stall because of another. The Tigers were forced to take a timeout to avoid a delay of game and they took the chance to set up a screen. Jack Allison took a step back in the pocket and dumped the ball off to Funk, who scampered 53 yards to give Palmetto its first lead of the game, 17-13.
Funk's final touchdown was a 2-yard plunge after Palmetto sacked Fort Myers' punter inside the 10-yard line during the third quarter.
Even with another three-touchdown performance, Funk is still expected to move into a more solid role in the secondary once running back Octavious James returns from an ankle injury. He broke up a pair of passes to thwart Fort Myers' final drive of the first half. He plays corner like he runs the ball -- with a deft match of physicality and athleticism, and once he can play defensive back full time the Tigers' defense will be even more imposing.
"He's a great player," Collins said. "That's all I can say."