Posted: 8:32 pm Monday, September 8th, 2008
By Jason Lieser
Pahokee and Glades Central are back on top. Jupiter Christian, Atlantic and Fort Pierce Westwood are better than most people expected. Those are just a few thoughts on what happened in the opening week of the football season.
For starters, the Blue Devils put to rest some questions. Despite some glaring problems in the pre-season loss to Olive Branch (inconsistent run defense, penalties and letting up in the fourth quarter), Pahokee was excellent in every aspect of its 44-3 win over Palm Beach Gardens.
“I wouldn’t say we got our swagger back 100 percent,” coach Blaze Thompson said. “We played better than we did the previous week, but more specifically, we kept our foot to the gas. We kept the pressure on them. We fought the entire game.”
If you are a Gators fan and you miss your chance to watch Nu’Keese Richardson while he’s still here in the county, you’re messing up. He stunned the crowd in Miami with two touchdown runs against Olive Branch and he was in top form against Gardens, too. This time he wowed everybody with a 57-yard punt return.
Thompson knows people will think he’s crazy for letting his starting quarterback return punts. But he says he’d be crazy not to do it.
“If you’re going to concern yourself with a player getting hurt, that can happen anytime on any play,” Thompson said. “We want our best players touching the ball as much as possible.”
Equally impressive was Pahokee’s defensive performance. The Blue Devils held the Gators to 76 rushing yards on 33 carries — that’s a pitiful 2.3 yards per carry for a team that prides itself on running the ball. The key was Pahokee’s ability to pressure the middle of the line, which made it difficult to Gardens’ Wing-T offense to execute its misdirection plays.
“The defense came strong at the end, and that’s our goal as a team: to finish strong,” Pahokee running back Vincent Smith said.
Glades Central coasted 54-0 over Palm Beach Lakes in the coaching debuts of Jessie Hester and Alonzo Jefferson.
Lakes opted to focus on stopping the run, which enabled Raiders quarterback L.J. Thomas to connect on his first seven passes, and Rantavious Wooten caught five balls for 119 yards and three touchdowns.
The single biggest sign that Glades Central is back on top was its offensive line. That group is composed of all seniors: TE Fritz Belin, RT Rupert Bryant, RG James Rainey, C Vincent Harper, LG Jim Knowles, and future Florida State man Henry Orelus at LT. They were dominant, and propelled the Raiders to eight yards per carry.
“Everything is great with that line,” running back Antonio McCloude said. “I’ve never played behind an offensive line like these guys. They don’t even get tired.”
Jefferson is not complaining publicly, but clearly he is frustrated by the schedule his predecessor Dan Sanso left behind. The rebuilding Rams opened the season against the area’s No. 2 team, and the next two weeks they play No. 4 Atlantic and No. 1 Pahokee.
Speaking of Atlantic, it looked a lot like the Chicago Bears: great defense and a game-changing special teams star in Jayron Hosley. Hosley returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown in the Eagles’ 9-7 win over Boca Raton, ruining the grand opening of the new Bobcat Stadium.
Boca coach Eddie Giersbrook praised the play of new quarterback Eddie Sullivan, but he was irked to see the offense come up empty on three of its red-zone opportunities. Also, I’m glad I wasn’t in the film room when he examined the Bobcats’ 110 penalty yards.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot,” Giersbrook said. “We have to tighten some things up on the offensive line. We have to get back to basics and get ready for Santaluces.”
Santaluces, by the way, is in danger of an 0-2 start after losing 22-0 at Boynton Beach. The Tigers play Vero Beach in two weeks, which will be a good indicator of their legitimacy. Several coaches thought Rick Swain and his new staff (featuring former UM star wideout Lamar Thomas) could surprise people this year.
Vero, a perennial power up north, couldn’t match Fort Pierce Westwood and new coach Waides Ashmon. In a 21-19 win, the Panthers’ defense held Vero to 2.5 yards per carry, and Ashmon was fired up about his special teams. Vontavious Thomas ran back a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, and Everette Jackson brought a punt back 46 yards for another.
“We do special teams for 45 minutes every day,” Ashmon said. “We open up every practice with special teams and we end every practice with special teams.”
Quarterback Isaac Virgin, heavily recruited by SEC powers as a tight end, completed 6 of 15 passes for 90 yards.
Glades Day coach Pete Walker has been raving about Kelvin Taylor and everybody better start listening. Taylor, the eighth-grade son of Jacksonville Jaguars Pro Bowl pick Fred Taylor, is sharing the backfield with Brandon Dean at Glades Day this season, but eventually this kid will become the featured back. He’s too strong, too fast and too Fred-Taylor-esque to keep him off the field. He rushed 14 times for 103 yards in the win over Hollywood-Chaminade.
Brian Dodds, head coach for Park Vista, gave me a polite told-you-so when I asked about running back Tre’ Mason’s stellar debut. Mason burned Jupiter for 186 yards (7.2 per carry) and scored a touchdown. Park Vista won 26-7, but the Cobras’ passing game still needs work, though.
Dwyer coach Jack Daniels thought his team played poorly in its 13-7 win at Royal Palm Beach, and expects a better performance from his offense against Gardens this week. Wildcats first-year coach Darren Studstill didn’t take the loss too hard, and said there was plenty to build from in defeat.
John I. Leonard‘s win over Lake Worth, wasn’t a huge upset or anything, but the Lancers scored 42 points? What? John I. Leonard has not done that since the opening night of 2006.
Quadarias Mireles got off to a great start with 142 yards and two scores on just 10 attempts. Five other players scored touchdowns for Leonard, but coach Wayne Monroe was not very interested in his team’s offensive outburst.
“We went into this year with a different attitude about defense,” he said. “To be decent, we needed to improve on defense. I challenged our guys to hold them to 100 yards total offense and they held them to 92.”
The Lancers were 8-11 over the last two seasons, but this team looks very improved already. We’ll get a better idea of their progress next week against Park Vista.
Jupiter Christian could not contain Lonnie Pryor, but I don’t think anybody can, and obviously Florida State agrees with me. The good news for the Eagles, though, was that quarterback Marshyl Rothman picked up where he left off last season. Rothman completed 16 of 24 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown as Jupiter Christian beat Okeechobee, 40-18.
Pryor picked up 169 yards on 14 carries, and scored on runs of 67 and 50 yards.
“We didn’t get that much time on offense, and the defense didn’t do well against their passing game, but we can bounce back from this,” Pryor said.
For half the teams that played Friday night, it’s a safe bet you’ll hear “bounce back” echoing through their locker rooms this week.