Posted: 6:07 am Friday, September 18th, 2009

Game within the game: Matt Elam vs. Corey Hill 

By Jason Lieser

It’s hard to isolate one specific matchup to watch, especially in a loaded game like Pahokee-Dwyer. Tonight’s game features 12 players from The Big Board, including seven of the top 14 — and that doesn’t even account for the wealth of talented underclassmen on both sides.

One angle worth monitoring, though, is Dwyer’s running game vs. Pahokee’s defensive front.

The Panthers (1-1, No. 3 in the Post) must run the ball to have a shot at taking down No. 1 Pahokee (2-0). Dwyer is far more consistent and effective running the ball, anyway, and that burden falls primarily on Matt Elam. Elam should play virtually every snap of this game (so will most of the players for both teams), so he will need some help shouldering that load. TE/FB/DE Gerald Christian is a nice compliment to Elam’s style and could get some handoffs.

Elam

Elam

Hill

Hill

The key for Dwyer is to maximize his carries. He picked up 90 yards on 11 attempts against Glades Central and needs to be somewhere around that average against the Blue Devils.

“He breaks tackles, shows good vision and he can catch,” Pahokee coach Blaze Thompson said. “He’s a great back, but we’ve seen him before. We know what to expect from him.”

Stopping Elam, or any talented running back, is never a one-man job, but Pahokee will rely heavily on LB Corey Hill. Hill (5-10, 200) usually plays middle linebacker and he is arguably the team’s most valuable player against the run, physically and mentally. He will be trying to pick up Elam out of the backfield, but he will also be directing traffic before the snap.

Following his 13-6 opening-week loss at Pahokee, Atlantic coach Andre Thaddies said he regretted going away from the run. Aside from the two times the Blue Devils sacked QB Mark Leal, the Eagles averaged 4.6 yards per rush.

“It’s critical for us to run the ball, but also to mix the play-calling up so they can’t just pin their ears back,” Dwyer coach Jack Daniels said. “But any team has to run to beat Pahokee because you want to keep the ball out of the hands of their offense.”

That will be difficult to do if Hill can minimize, or at least reasonably contain, Elam’s production on the ground.

For the sake of time, I’m not going to delve too deeply into these, but some other points to pay attention to are:

How will Dwyer cover WR Chris Dunkley? CB Robert Clark “held” Dunkley to two catches for 97 yards and a touchdown in Dwyer’s game against Royal Palm Beach last year, but Dunkley is playing better as a senior and enjoying more match-up advantages than ever when the Blue Devils line him up in the slot. Dunkley often draws a safety or linebacker in the slot, so several Dwyer defenders will have to provide solid coverage. Best guess is he ends up facing Clark and/or Elam most of the night.

How will QB Jacoby Brissett respond to Pahokee’s pass rush and airtight secondary? Some defensive lines make the secondary look good, and vice versa, but the Blue Devils’ defense truly is symbiotic. They get good push from the interior linemen, they have dominant edge rushers and their defensive backs practically wear the jersey of the man they are covering. Brissett was a disaster against a similar defense (Glades Central) in Week 1 and it will be interesting to see how he responds to it this time.

You could ask that same question about whoever plays quarterback for Pahokee. It seems unlikely the Blue Devils will be able to use Emanuel Perez against a team like Dwyer. Assuming De’Joshua Johnson takes most, if not all, of the snaps, he will have to make good reads at he line of scrimmage to pick up the Panthers’ array of blitzes. Daniels has so many weapons on defense and his staff implemented more than 20 different blitz packages in a game last season. Any time Johnson is able to detect where the blitz is coming from could lead to a big play.

This list could go on and on. I’ve highlighted a few points, but feel free to add your own in the comments section.

I’ll leave you with two interesting facts:

1. No team from eastern Palm Beach County has won at Pahokee or Glades Central since Jupiter beat the Blue Devils in 2002 at Lair Field.

2. Dwyer is 1-0 all-time at Pahokee. The Panthers went west and beat Anquan Boldin and the Blue Devils in 1997. The following year, Pahokee “came back to Dwyer and beat us by 40,” Daniels said.