NAPLES — The 2015 regular season kicks off next week, but the time to evaluate and teach continues for new Dixie Hollins coach Shane Wheeler.
Wheeler and the Rebels made the trip to Naples on Friday for a preseason classic against fellow Class 6A program Barron Collier. Heavy rain and lightning prompted a one hour, 45 minute-delay, and it was the host Cougars who struck early and often when play started in an eventual 44-26 victory.
Dixie Hollins outscored Barron Collier 20-10 after halftime to narrow a 28-point deficit.
And the fact the Rebels, who were led offensively by Pro Wells' three touchdown receptions, turned in a better performance over the final 24 minutes gave Wheeler reason for optimism.
"With our game plan, we really improved in the second half," Wheeler said. "We came out with a different attitude and that was the difference from the first half. We had the weather issues and the delay and we started slow, but I don't want to take anything away from Barron Collier. We just started slow, but once we started getting into a little groove things started working for us."
Barron Collier, which is under the direction of new coach Mark Jackson, took a 6-0 lead only nine seconds into the first quarter when Jamel Davis scooped up a Rebels fumble on the opening kickoff and went into the end zone.
The Cougars scored touchdowns on four of their five first-half drives — Emilio Martinez's interception inside the Dixie Hollins 30-yard line ended Barron Collier's last offensive possession before halftime — en route to a 34-6 lead.
Barron Collier not only turned a pair of Rebels turnovers into 13 first-half points, but the Cougars also came up with a goal-line stand late in the second quarter.
Wells caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Thomas Horton with 6:01 left in the third quarter, making the score 37-12. Wells also got the Rebels on the scoreboard with a 24-yard TD reception from Dekovin Cann Jr. at the 6:01 mark of the first quarter.
Cann Jr. and Wells connected for a 58-yard touchdown with 4:18 remaining — shortly after the Rebels had an 87-yard scoring run nullified by a penalty — and Wells went up to make a successful one-handed, two-point catch in the back of the end zone to bring the Rebels within 37-20.
"Wells is a freak athlete," Wheeler said. "But the protection was great on those plays, the quarterbacks put the ball where they needed to put it and gave us a chance to make a play. It's always good to get those matchups."
The teams traded touchdowns in the final 14 seconds, which included a Dixie Hollins kickoff return on the game's last play.