Posted: 3:52 pm Sunday, September 21st, 2008

The Truth: Week 3 

By Jason Lieser

Glades Day’s loss is a big deal, Seminole Ridge should have won and next week’s matchup between Olympic Heights and Boynton Beach is an elimination game.

Plus, notes on Clewiston, Glades Central, Pahokee, West Boca Raton, Palm Beach Central, Jupiter Christian, King’s Academy, American Heritage and others:


Let’s look at Royal Palm Beach‘s 17-12 win over Seminole Ridge first. This was our Game of the Week and it turned out to be one of the more exciting games in the area.

Bottom line: Seminole Ridge will regret this game the rest of the season, and Royal Palm Beach knows it escaped with an unlikely win. It’s very rare for a team to overcome nine total fumbles (four lost), 100 penalty yards and a late third-quarter deficit — which is exactly what the Wildcats did Friday.

So how did they do it? Big plays. Royal Palm Beach (1-1) was inconsistent offensively and defensively, but the Wildcats’ ability to score at any moment offset those issues. Royal Palm Beach built a 10-0 lead by Steven Louis blocking a punt a safety and Javonti Greene’s 49-yard touchdown run down the right side of the field.

Seminole Ridge (2-1) eventually caught back up and took the lead on Tyler Wilhelm’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Javian Wrisper. The Hawks did so thanks mostly to tight defense that put a lot of pressure on the Wildcats’ backfield.

“Every time we didn’t have protection somewhere, they sent the blitz right at that spot and blew it up,” Royal Palm Beach quarterback Marvin Payne said.

But right after the Hawks took a 12-10 lead with 3:06 left in the third, Payne opened the next possession with an 80-yard touchdown pass to Eric Peterson. He hit Peterson on a 20-yard throw, and Seminole Ridge could not tackle him. The few things the Hawks’ defense did wrong undercut the many things they did right.

The offense sputtered against seven- and eight-man blitzes and managed just 18 rushing yards on 24 tries, but the Seminole Ridge defense played well enough to win. That’s why Wildcats coach Darren Studstill said the win felt a lot like the Week 1 loss to Dwyer and that his team “escaped” against the Hawks.

Sometimes, though, like the New England Patriots showed a few times last season, the mark of a good team is its ability to beat solid opponents even when playing below its best.

Everybody keeps misspelling Olympic Heights running back Antione Kirkland’s first name (yes, it is A-N-T-I-O-N-E), but I figure that will stop if he keeps running like he did Friday against John I. Leonard.

Kirkland, who still is battling an upper hamstring injury in his left leg, carried 25 times for 247 yards and two touchdowns in the Lions’ 21-13 win over John I. Leonard (1-2).

“He looks like he was in form,” said coach Mitch Hengold, whose team already matched last year’s win total by starting 2-0.

“He had strength and balance, and used his stiff arm to throw people to the ground. You fall in love with him watching that film.”

The stiff arm is something Kirkland copied from San Diego Chargers star LaDanian Tomlinson.

Kirkland rushed for 313 yards and four touchdowns in the first two games, and Hengold believes he is the top running back in the area. He said an assistant coach from a BCS program told him Kirkland is a more impressive college prospect than Okeechobee’s Lonnie Pryor, who is verbally committed to Florida State.

As for the sore hamstring, Kirkland said he has yet to recover the speed he displayed in spring practices.

“I feel like I’ve overcome it, but it’s slowed me down a little bit,” he said.

Olympic Heights beat Pope John Paul II and John I. Leonard by a combined score of 48-13, and the Lions enter district play in this week’s visit to Boynton Beach. Beginning Oct. 10, they face Dwyer, Park Vista and Boca Raton in consecutive weeks.

“We have a fighting chance in our district, but we have a lot of work to do,” Hengold said. “We’re not as talented as a lot of the teams we’re going to play. You look at Boca’s lineup, and certainly Dwyer, and there’s Division I players all over the field. We have to play great special teams, control the clock, and play smart on defense.”

They also have to beat Boynton Beach. Both programs are on the rise and have solid head coaches in place, but whoever loses Friday’s game can rule out a playoff berth. The top two spots in the district are expected to go to Dwyer and Boca Raton, but Friday’s winner still has an outside shot.

Boynton Beach (1-1) lost a winnable game at Vero Beach, 41-20. The year before, the Tigers lost 42-0, so their progress is evident.

“I don’t think the score was indicative of how close it could have been,” coach Rick Swain said. “We dropped a few balls and we left our defense on the field too long. It was a good learning experience.”

Vero Beach dominated the ground game with 355 rushing yards, and the Tigers certainly felt the absence of injured lineman Handell Orange. Orange is out for the year with a knee injury, and is one of the best run-stoppers on the team.

Swain was particularly pleased to receive compliments from Vero Beach coaches noting that the Tigers were classy in defeat, which has been a problem for the program at times. He is hopeful the team will continue cutting down mental mistakes against the Lions this week.

“Olympic Heights will be really interesting,” said Swain, who praised Hengold’s work. “They’re a ball-control team and they’re going to be very conservative and make you make mistakes.”

Look for Swain to get the ball to playmaker Eddie Weal a little more this week. Against Vero Beach, Weal had five catches for 63 yards and two touchdowns, and returned a kickoff 95 yards for Boynton Beach’s first score of the game.

Glades Day will not want to talk about this, but the Gators defense was embarrassed in the 30-24 loss to Clewiston (2-1).

Clewiston running back Darris Hughes, a senior, ran roughshod over the Gators, with 348 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. The Tigers’ offense piled on 444 yards of total offense.

“All week, our coach told us to prepare for this game like any other, but we knew it wasn’t just any other game,” said Clewiston’s Adam Trevino, who plays offensive guard and defensive end.

The Gators (2-1) need to take a hard look at their front seven and make some adjustments or they will have similar problems against Pryor and Okeechobee in two weeks.

Trevino said his team stressed the importance of shutting down Glades Day’s eighth-grade running back Kelvin Taylor, but Taylor’s 159 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries underscores just how special his talent is. Clewiston made a concerted effort to keep the kid from running wild, and he did it anyway.

As for Hughes, Trevino said his attitude has been markedly better lately. Hughes was twice kicked off the team and reinstated before the season began, but Trevino believes those issues are history.

“We gave Darris a clean slate, and he took advantage of it,” Trevino said. “He’s been out there every day working hard at practice. Ever since we brought him back, he’s been a team player and there hasn’t been any bickering or arguing.”

Clewiston hosts Glades Central next week, which will be an interesting indicator for both teams. Last year, Hughes ran for 143 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders, who won 23-6. Both teams look better this season, but the improvement at Glades Central (3-0) has been so dramatic that it seems unlikely to be a close game.

But you won’t hear that from Raiders coach Jessie Hester, who said Clewiston’s win over Glades Day should serve as an ample wake-up call.

“The better team doesn’t always win these types of rivalry games,” Hester said. “You always have to anticipate a tough game there.”

The 2008 Raiders have yet to see what a “tough game” looks like. They pummeled Palm Beach Gardens 35-8 and have outscored their three adversaries this season, 125-15. Hester credits most of the early success to his offensive line and the ability to establish the running game early with Antonio McCloude, who hit Gardens for 140 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.

“The offensive line still is the catalyst of our team,” Hester said.

After Clewiston, Glades Central welcomes Dwyer (2-0) for a highly anticipated game. Hester said he has yet to unveil the full range of his offense, but open it up completely when the Panthers come to town.

Pahokee (3-0) is living up to its promise to make everybody on its regular-season schedule pay for the Blue Devils’ pre-season loss to Olive Branch (Miss.). They blasted Palm Beach Lakes 56-14 last week, and kept starting quarterback Nu’Keese Richardson in for the entire game.

“We could have put (back-up Emmanuel Perez) in, but we have a concentrated effort on putting our foot on the gas,” coach Blaze Thompson said.

“It’s not that no lead is safe, but we’re going to keep playing hard the whole game.”

Junior wide receiver DeJousha Johnson continued to impress, catching two passes (both touchdowns) for 130 yards. Johnson is 5-11, 170 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. In what I’ve seen of Pahokee this year, Johnson appears to be open on almost every play.

“The kid is lightning fast,” Thompson said. “I love his speed, his ability to catch the ball, but I want him to get more intense. We’d like him to fight for those tough yards.”

Running back Vincent Smith was stellar as well, with 241 yards and three touchdowns on 19 rushing attempts.

“We haven’t had the success that we anticipated throwing the ball, so we wanted to re-establish the running game,” Thompson said.

Pahokee hosts Jupiter this week, with the Warriors (1-1) coming off a 35-28 win over Suncoast. The Blue Devils shut out Jupiter 24-0 last season, but the Warriors usually minimize mistakes and have a clear edge in special teams.

“I would compare Charlie Persson and his team to King’s Academy, in that they play us hard and they’re not afraid,” Thompson said. “They’re never out of position. It’s tough to run up the score against a team like that.”

Thompson said his team will have to accept losing the special teams battle and compensate for it on offense and defense.

Boca Raton (2-1) is poised for retribution against West Boca Raton in a rematch of last year’s 14-13 Bulls victory. But don’t take West Boca Raton lightly, especially its defense.

Head coach Willie Dodaro credited defensive coordinator Matt Hanley and defensive line coach Alphonse Moran with greatly improving the front seven. Still, the Bulls (3-0) will have to play near-perfect football to have a chance at the upset this week.

In looking ahead at the game, Dodaro referred to Boca Raton quarterback Eddie Sullivan as “the Park Vista kid.” I don’t think he meant anything by it, but I wonder how long people will think of Sullivan that way.

Consider this: Palm Beach Central has the same first three opponents this year as it had last year, and the Broncos’ defense has allowed 16 fewer points this time around.

“There’s no question our defense is fundamentally sound this season,” coach Rod Harris said. “They’re much improved.”

Harris specifically credited the defensive line play for the team’s progress.

The Broncos took down Inlet Grove by 25 points last week, a year after the Hurricanes beat them 27-24. Palm Beach Central should improve to 3-1 with a win over Lake Worth this week. Last year the Broncos opened the season 1-4.

Jupiter Christian keeps making it look easy — the Eagles knocked off Calvary Christian 62-13 — and Marshyl Rothman said this group is far better than last year’s championship team.

“I’d take this team any day of the week,” he said.

Rothman was 12 of 13 for 259 yards and five touchdown passes. In three games, he has completed nearly 74 percent of his passes for 567 yards and seven touchdowns.

“Last night, I had a ridiculous amount of time to throw,” Rothman said of Friday’s win over Calvary Christian. “There were times when I was back there and through all four reads before I threw the ball.”

Rothman, a junior, has an offer from Wofford College, and is starting to gain notice among bigger programs. His height (5-9) is an issue, but Kansas State, Rutgers, Troy, Buffalo and Purdue have all shown interest.

It’s too bad we won’t get a chance to see Rothman and the Eagles (3-0) take on big Palm Beach County teams like Royal Palm Beach, Dwyer and Boca Raton, but coach Bill Powers said he has trouble convincing schools of that size to schedule games against a 1B opponent.

“Oh my gosh,” Rothman said. “Every week we wish we could play teams like that. We’ve tried to schedule them, but there’s no upside in playing us. We commend the teams that take the risk.”

Okeechobee and Jensen Beach took shots at the Eagles this year, and neither came within 20 points.

Is American Heritage better off with backup Billy Strode at quarterback than it was with Darius Milines? It’s way too early to make a judgment on that question, but Strode looked strong in the Stallions’ 20-19 win over King’s Academy.

Strode lacks Milines game-changing speed, but he is a better passer and it showed Friday. He completed 9 of 15 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown.

“He throws a nice ball, and the coaches did well not asking him to do too much,” King’s Academy coach Craig Dobson said.

American Heritage (1-1) led the Lions 13-0 at halftime, but King’s Academy (1-2) fought back on a one-yard touchdown run by Tyler Toulson and a 20-yard touchdown pass from Mike Miller to tight end Toney Moore. The game went to overtime, and the Lions nearly won it on a two-point conversion attempt but Miller’s pass went off the fingertips of Lee Bussey.

Dobson on the gutsy call to go for two: “We have about seven plays for that situation and I picked the best one we had.”

It was sweet revenge for the Stallions, who lost by three to King’s Academy last year. In that game, American Heritage failed to score on four consecutive plays inside the four-yard line with a minute left.