Posted: 12:13 pm Tuesday, September 1st, 2009
By Jason Lieser
Last season’s Glades Central-Dwyer game looked more like mud wrestling than football, and neither side was able to fully unleash its offense. The Raiders took that game 6-0 in four overtimes at Palm Beach Central.
The weather could be bad again when they meet Friday at Blum Stadium, but this year’s game will look completely different, either way. Dwyer is better than it was in ’08 and, at this point, Glades Central appears to be slightly behind where it was a year ago.
The Panthers bring back most of their players from a team that went 12-2 and reached the state semifinals last season. They also added two quality transfers from Inlet Grove (LB/DE Leroy Kelson and WR Mike Ruiz) and Palm Beach Gardens (OL/DL Craig and Charles Dowdy).
They graduated QB/S Bradley Wallace, but junior QB Jacoby Brissett got a lot of playing time last year and is seasoned for his age. Brissett has a big arm, good speed and has great poise. He is calm in the pocket and runs a balanced offense. Dwyer uses LB Matt Elam as a running back and a receiver. He is as good as any running back in the area. Brissett has fast targets downfield in Ruizand Robert Clark and also has solid options in TE Gerald Christian and Nick O’Leary (plays tight end and slot receiver).
Defensively, Dwyer is strong on the line and loves to blitz with Elam, Christian and basically anyone else on the field. When the blitz is on, the Panthers cornerbacks are good enough to handle man-to-man single coverage against most teams. Glades Central is especially gifted and deep at wide receiver, so you might not see the Panthers blitz as many or as often as they would against lesser teams.
“If I’m sitting back here and I see six guys coming in my face, my throws aren’t going to be as accurate,” Dwyer coach Jack Daniels said. “You’re probably going to have one guy unblocked and ifit’s Matt Elam or Gerald, you know you’re going to get a good shot. With our defensive front, we’re pretty good up front. I think we can get pressure with four and play some soft coverages too, but that’s not really been our philosophy.”
Raiders coach Jessie Hester is a big fan of Elam and said he is one of the few players in the area who would start for his team if he attended Glades Central.
“Matt’s a tremendous player,” Hester said. “He has a really good knack for timing his blitzes and getting to the QB. It takes a special skill to time it the way he does. They like to keep him along the line of scrimmage so he can make plays.”
On the other side, Glades Central returns just six starters from a team that went 10-0 in the regular season before falling to Miami-Monsignor Pace in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs. The entire ’08 offensive line, which was one of the best the Raiders have ever had, is gone and it shows.
“They’re a lot smaller and they don’t look as experienced,” Christian said after watching game film.
In Saturday’s pre-season loss to Miami-Carol City, Glades Central ran every play out of the shotgun. There were a lot of bad snaps and the Raiders had a tough time getting RB Antwon Chisholm quality carries in that formation.
“It’s difficult,” Hester said of trying to establish a ground game from the shotgun. “We have to get under center to help (Chisholm) out.”
Chisholm, one of the five best running backs in the area, rushed for 43 yards on 11 attempts. He gained 2 yards or fewer on eight carries. The Raiders averaged 162.7 yards per game on the ground last season and Hester said improving the run game is imperative for his offense.
“I think if we get our o-line right in these couple of days, our running game will be fine,” wide receiver Greg Dent said. “We’re going to need the running game.”
Despite the graduation of the entire offensive line, Glades Central is loaded at the skill positions, as usual. QB L.J. Thomas took some ill-advised gambles down field and committed three turnovers Saturday, but few high school quarterbacks throw a better deep ball and he is a gifted runner. Also, Hester said the receivers frequently ran wrong routes Saturday and he expects that to be corrected this week.
The depth chart is stacked at wide receiver. Junior Kelvin Benjamin caught five passes for 106 yards in the second half Saturday. At 6-6, there is no cornerback in the area who can shut him down. Dwyer’s best defensive back, Clark, is 5-9 — though he probably has the best vertical leap on the team. Glades Central used Benjamin in the slot frequently against Carol City and sent him over the middle. If the Raiders do that again, Benjamin will have to show he is tough enough and healthy enough (knee) to take some punishment.
“That kid’s a freak,” Christian said. “I know they’re going to try to throw a lot of jump balls to him, but hopefully our safeties can get over the top and help out with that.
“They’re top receivers, so they’re going to have some plays. They’re going to get you at some point. They’re going to have some plays, but you have to limit how many big plays you give them.”
Dwyer could use Brissett (6-4, 200) as a safety or linebacker when Glades Central reaches the red zone. Brissett, who played sparingly at defensive end last year, could make it tougher for Thomas to lob fade routes into the end zone.
Panthers coaches were likewise impressed by Dent, one of the area’s fastest and nastiest receivers. He is unusually physical for his size (6-0, 175). Dent had two catches for 69 yards Saturday,including a 45-yard touchdown reception. Senior Demetrius Evans is one of the most underrated receivers in the area, and the Raiders have several other receivers who would start on almost any other team, like Carlton Lewis and Edward Alvin.
The Raiders also have exceptional talent on defense. Few teams, if any, have that much speed in the secondary. DBs Travis Bell and Dent are major college prospects. Hester can also use Chisholm in the secondary if he needs him.
Up front, Glades Central looked very good against Carol City and there appears to be little drop-off from last year. The Raiders sacked Carol City QB Devonte Mathis eight times and forced him into six incompletions over his final seven passes. Carol City’s offense produced -18 net yards in the fourth quarter. Royal Palm Beach transfer Isaiah Corbett was a big part of that, as well as Robert Way and Delbert Clarke.
“They have big ends coming in off the edge,” Brissett said. “They’ve got good secondary players. You have to look for them to bite on fakes.”
The Raiders played Saturday’s game without TE/DE Clive Walford (6-5, 225) and OL Travis Salter (5-11, 260), both sidelined with knee injuries. Hester said both are medically cleared to play and will line up Friday, though they haven’t gone full speed in practice in at least six weeks. Walford, a basketball star, is a relatively unproven commodity on the football field and it is unknown how the layoff will affect him.
Injuries and weather aside, these teams are pretty even. Dwyer has an edge in the running game and on the offensive line. Glades Central has better wide receivers. These are two of the best defenses that will take the field in Florida this year. The game features eight seniors from The Big Board.
If Glades Central plays like it did Saturday, the Raiders will lose by at least two touchdowns. If both teams are in top form, this should be a one-score game in either direction.