Posted: 2:43 pm Monday, November 8th, 2010
By Matt Porter
The fate of three teams — John I. Leonard, Royal Palm Beach and Santaluces — will be decided tonight in Greenacres. Here’s a full breakdown of the teams in the District 12-5A tiebreaker, what the coaches are saying, and analysis from the sidelines and stands.
After coaching his team in a three-way district tiebreaker last season, Seminole Ridge coach Matt Dickmann is thrilled to be watching from afar.
“It was the worst-ever feeling I ever had,” Dickmann said of last year’s District 8-6A second-place tiebreaker, in which his team emerged over Atlantic and Park Vista. His team played a Friday night game against Park Vista, and it spent the weekend practicing and preparing for both a Monday game against two opponents, and the following Friday’s game against a different team. “It sucked the life out of me,” Dickmann said.
It’s been a long weekend for Royal Palm Beach coach Frank Kunf — who has a game against Dickmann and Seminole Ridge this Friday — John I. Leonard coach Wayne Monroe and Santaluces coach Darryl Drinkwater.
Around 8:30 Monday night, one of them will be elated, and all will be exhausted.
“You’re preparing for four teams in seven days,” Dickmann said. “I talked to Frank Kunf when we switched film Saturday, and I said, I don’t wish that on anybody, buddy. That was a nightmare. I hope I never have to do it again.
“He just laughed and said, ‘That’s great.'”
Speaking the day before the game, all three coaches gave their thoughts on the matchups. Taking it from each school’s perspective:
As the host school, the Lancers will take notes on Royal Palm Beach and Santaluces, who play the first mini-game at 7 p.m. After seeing its district title hopes evaporate with Friday’s 20-7 loss to Lake Worth, John I. has to hit the reset button.
Monroe said Friday’s game was emotionally draining, but he thinks his team is mature enough to bounce back.
“As soon as you cross those white lines, it’s game on,” he said. “You play like it’s a playoff or championship game every time you play.”
Offensively, the Lancers are at their best when they’re building off senior running back Marlin Joseph. A powerful downhill runner, Joseph creates opportunities for Lancers quarterback Travis Lee and his receivers.
“He ran wild against us,” Santaluces’ Drinkwater said of Joseph, who is third in rushing among area large schools (1,003 yards). “The boot game, because of No. 24, whether it’s naked boots or the quarterback dumping it off to the tight end, just him being back there it opens up the boot game. We have to shut that down.”
John I. Leonard has a great chance to win if they eat up the field for 6-8 minutes and score.
“In one quarter, they’re going to give us fits,” Royal Palm Beach’s Kunf said. “They’ll really use the clock. We think we can score, but if we cant get these guys off the field, the clock will be a pressure thing for us.”
In its Oct. 8 win over Santaluces, John I. jumped out to a 23-point halftime lead thanks to Joseph’s 188 first-half rushing yards (he finished with 216 and two touchdowns). But the Chiefs put together a dominant second half and nearly stole the game.
“They were more physical, and in the second half, we were more physical,” Drinkwater said of that game. “That John I. Leonard offense, it’s a crapshoot. Sometimes I feel they’re going to be shut down, and sometimes I feel we can’t stop them.”
In Friday’s loss to Lake Worth, Monroe said his offense “sputtered a bit.” Lake Worth held the Lancers to 151 rushing yards on 28 carries, and three completions for 31 yards. Their only touchdown was a 3-yard run by Joseph (12 carries, 82 yards).
“Hopefully we can work out the kinks there,” Monroe said.
That game, John I. Leonard’s defense was more of a sure thing. It held Lake Worth to its lowest point total of the season (20), and less than 40 points for the second time this year.
Drinkwater says he thought his team was “due for eight wins” and a district championship. But several factors derailed the season.
First, a starting defensive was dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons the day before the Chiefs’ Week 2 game against Seminole Ridge.
“He was one of our best players,” Drinkwater said. “He was a fiery guy. But we had to let him go. We’re still trying to find a replacement for him.”
The player was dismissed after an incident in practice.
“It was a tough decision, but when you set rules, you have to stick with them. On the field it hurt us, but it sent a message to the kids that no matter who you are, you have to be a team guy first.”
The Chiefs lost a key district matchup with Lake Worth on Oct. 21. In a 40-0 defeat, they dropped catchable balls and were shaky on offense. Drinkwater said his players’ heads weren’t in it, and for good reason.
The week of the Lake Worth game, one offensive starter had a family member pass away, another had a family member hospitalized in critical condition, and another’s mother was hospitalized. Three other starters were missing due to injury, Drinkwater said.
“They were really out of it,” he said. “The team was just kind of shook up, a little bit. That first quarter was rough. They pulled together, and we’ve been playing better since. It was just a long, rough week.
The Chiefs have a chance to make this year one to remember. If they get past Royal Palm, they’ll need try to keep the ball away from the Lancers.
“Royal Palm can definitely strike fast, and that’s scary,” Drinkwater said. “But that tough, grind-it-out, lot of down-blocking and pulling that John I. Leonard does, that seems to give us more of a problem.”
Santaluces sees an advantage in playing first.
“I think because we’re not at home, I think we’d rather play. We don’t want to sit around at someone else’s place,” Drinkwater said. “We can knock the rust off. We usually do better after a series.”
“We’re pretty confident going in,” he continued. “I think we’re the team. I’m sure Coach Monroe would say it, and I think [Royal Palm coach Frank Kunf] would say the same thing. But I feel like no matter what happens tomorrow night, if we show up and do what we need to do, we’re going to win that thing.”
“In a format like this, it’s one quarter of football. For example, Royal Palm, that fast receiver they have, they could get one big play to him, and get a turnover, and the game’s over.
“It’s going to come down to protecting the ball, and not taking foolish penalties. Not jumping offsides, no false starts, no procedure penalties, no personal fouls, facemasks, things like that.
“A 15-yard facemask could decide who wins the game.”
“I think we have a chance. The Royal Palm game was very close, but we were at home for that game. The John I. Leonard game was a pretty much an epic game. I wouldn’t be shocked either way.
“I feel like we’re the best team going in to this thing. Whether we play that way, we’ll find out [Monday] night.”
The one-win Wildcats are the wild-card.
Coach Frank Kunf said personally, he doesn’t think a one-win team deserves to be playing for a playoff spot, but “we’re there, and we’re going to try to win the game.”
“We’re not going to use anything new or fancy,” he said. “You go with what got you here. We’re not a very good football team, but we have some plays we can execute, so we’ll use them.”
The Wildcats scored their only win of the year against John I. Leonard, and Kunf said they put together their longest drive of the season (19 plays) against the Lancers. They put together a second-half comeback in their loss to Santaluces.
That gives them hope going in.
“It’s 0-0 in the fourth quarter. That’s what I tell the kids,” Kunf said. “We win the toss, we want the football. We’ll go on offense and march down the field. Our offense hasn’t ever been one that can sustain a lot of drives.
“We’re a big-play team, we like to throw the ball around a lot. You never know what’s going to happen when you throw the ball around, especially in high school.
“One kid falls down, you make a big play, and that could be the game.”
The “fast receiver” Santaluces’ Drinkwater mentioned is junior playmaker Tremaine McCullough, who has 31 catches for 343 yards. If he draws a double-team, watch for starting quarterback T.J. Abrams to target sophomores Joe Wilson and Lloyd ‘Bam’ Howard.
“It’s real basic football,” Kunf said. “Nothing magical. It’s our sophomores vs. their seniors.”
The player Kunf worries about most is Santaluces senior Terrance Floyd. If the Chiefs are able to spread out Royal Palm’s coverage, Floyd will dominate.
“He kills us,” Kunf said of Floyd, a Wisconsin commit. “That kid’s special. We don’t have anybody on our team who can go against him. In a real short time period, someone of that caliber can take over.
“On third-and-8, they get first downs. That’s the thing with Santaluces that always makes you nervous.”
However, Kunf said his team’s jackpot potential, plus the short clock, means they’re not out of it.
“Our ability to be able to spread the ball around and our team’s speed will neutralize that factor. They have the ball for 8 minutes, we can score in 3 plays.
“It’s all about us connecting. That’s exactly what we did versus John I. Leonard, and it was victorious. Versus Santaluces, we had a touchdown called back.
Had that not happened, Kunf said, “maybe we wouldn’t be talking right now.”
“That’s why we’re excited. We’re just as good a football team as the ones we’re playing. You never know what can happen. We’ve already seen these guys. They’re not world-beaters. We hang in there just like they do.”
For an outside look, here’s Dickmann’s perspective:
“It really just depends on who gets the ball first. If you’re John I. Leonard, you want the ball first. You want to eat it up all the way down the field and score, and leave them two or three minutes.
“They might be quick-strike, but what happens now is they have to go 80, and it’s like fourth quarter now, with two minutes left. So you don’t want to give up the big play, so it’s bend don’t break.
“It works both ways. I’d rather have it where you took all that time with the ball, and they have two or three minutes left to get down the field and score. Now you can back everybody out, and let the clock run, and do everything underneath.
“Because the one thing about that quick-strike offense is, you miss a few plays here and next thing you know, it’s third-and-10 and you might be punting if you’re in your own area.”
My take: I know the coaches don’t like it, but I think this will be an exciting, albeit brief, night of football. In this format, one play, or one player, can be the difference, which makes it impossible to predict.
Over four quarters, Santaluces has the advantage over Royal Palm and John I. Leonard, so I’m picking them on Monday night, too. Santaluces wins, and advances to the 5A regional quarterfinals.
Update (9:46 p.m.): John I. Leonard earns a playoff spot, scoring twice on Santaluces in the second 12-minute game. Unofficially, it’s a 14-0 win. The Lancers (4-5, 2-2) have a Nov. 19 date at Melbourne-Bayside in the Class 5A regional quarterfinals. Santaluces beat Royal Palm Beach 3-0 in the first game, on a last-second field goal. Please check PBGametime.com for my story, which will be posted soon.