Posted: 1:40 am Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Aftermath: Dwyer’s season over after a last-second field goal (plus postgame thoughts) 

By Matt Porter

SEFFNER — With 19 seconds to go, Dwyer’s season was suddenly alive, and as the final second ticked off the clock, it was over.

After Jacoby Brissett led the Panthers on a 74-yard scoring drive and threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Tommylee Lewis, Armwood went 40 yards in two plays, and set up for a 44-yard field goal with 5 seconds remaining.

As time ran out, senior kicker Darrell “Ash” Dudney’s kick fluttered through the uprights. Armwood, 22-20.

Click here for my game story, hastily crafted in 30 minutes and filed from my car outside an empty Lyle Flagg Field.

After heading back to the hotel/motel/Holiday Inn, here’s some semi-instant reaction from one of the most thrilling games I’ve seen in 10 years of covering sports.

1. Heartbreak and pandemonium. Hard to forget Dwyer’s season-opening 26-22 loss to Cleveland-Glenville (feels like I’ve typed that phrase a hundred times this year). That game was in Dwyer’s grasp for three quarters. This one didn’t feel like it was Dwyer’s until the final minutes.

But it was Dwyer’s. And it was ripped away. After, players couldn’t speak. Some couldn’t look at me when I asked them to try to put the feeling into words. It was a bitter feeling for coach Jack Daniels. “Not much I can say,” he said.

Of course, it was sheer pandemonium on the Armwood side. Before I escaped and went to the field, I thought the press box was going to collapse. On the field, Armwood players ran into each other, jumping and crying and hollering things like “I love you bro!” and “We did it!” and thanking God … celebrating a trip to the state finals that seemed so far out of reach 19 seconds of game clock before.

2. Brissett steals the show. As he did against Glenville, Jacoby Brissett proved why he’s such a great player. He was out of sync for most of the game. The stats: 10-of-26 for 114 yards, due to overthrows, huge pressure from Armwood and some dropped passes, but Brissett was money in the bank on the final drive.

He completed a 14-yard out to Clint Stephens and fired a bullet through a pinhole to Tommylee Lewis for a gain of 10. He also fought for five extra yards on a crucial fourth-and-6. His go-ahead, 13-yard touchdown pass to Lewis with 19 seconds remaining came with a defender hanging all over him. After it all, Brissett was the last player left on the field, shirtless and sobbing on his knees with several relatives consoling him. He literally left it all out there.

3. Nick O’Leary loss hurt bad. In front of FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who chatted with him before the game, O’Leary’s night was over soon after it began. He was targeted for the first time midway through the first quarter and made a 16-yard grab, but was done after that. O’Leary had no feeling in his left shoulder, according to a halftime report from a Dwyer assistant. The injury was thought to be a pinched nerve, but nothing definite was known after the game. Neither shoulder was wrapped up.

O’Leary, who spent the rest of the game standing on the sideline in a coat and knit cap, would have helped the Panthers in a big way. Seniors Ben Hall and Corey Smith did a capable job filling in, but couldn’t match O’Leary’s battering-ram blocking. The Hawks got to Brissett several times, hurrying him and producing a 17-yard sack near the end of the first half. He just couldn’t establish any rhythm.

Running back Shawn McClaine was tackled for two yards or less on 9 of his 16 carries, three for a loss, and carried five times for three yards in the second half. He finished with 16 carries for 89 yards, most of those on a 54-yarder in the second quarter. Without O’Leary’s blocking at tight end, McClaine didn’t have always have an edge to turn on. Wasn’t all O’Leary, but he opens up a lot of room for others to operate.

During the season, O’Leary usually played safety when Dwyer needed a big stop. Brissett, after leading Dwyer on that final touchdown drive, took O’Leary’s place.

4. The unlikely hero. Dudney, who said tonight was the first time any reporter has ever talked to him, was mobbed after his winning kick. For 10 minutes after that, he was backslapped and body-checked and hugged by his teammates and coaches.

A transfer from Tampa-King following his junior year (“I spent two years getting my ass kicked,” he said, which I assume means King is not a good team), the senior was like your quintessential goofy kicker: A lanky 6-2, 180, with a shock of bleach-dyed hair and all the scruffy beard he could manage to grow. He had 47-yard range in warmups, and said he knew he could nail it from 44.

“I’ve done a lot of crazy stuff, but nothing feels like this … I still am at a loss for words … I just thank them for putting up with me, first of all … If I didn’t hit that, I think I might have gotten killed,” he said. “But you know, that was the greatest game I’ve ever been a part of … that was insane.”

Should be mentioned here too: Hawks senior Josh Grady was for real. The 6-1, 188-pound QB, who is deciding between Iowa State and Wake Forest offers, ate up Dwyer’s secondary, throwing TD passes of 72, 38 and 60 yards. He finished 7-of-11 for 253 yards. Dwyer had a habit of lightly covering sophomore wideout Ronnie Thomas, and Grady took advantage. Thomas caught three passes for 140 yards and two TDs.

5. What now for Dwyer? Dwyer coach Jack Daniels has no problem saying says what he thinks, and sometimes those words are pretty blunt. “Failure. It’s a failure,” he said, when asked what to take from Dwyer’s season. “We didn’t win the state championship, so it’s a failure.” A bitter end produces those kind of words, so it’s hard to criticize Daniels for being too harsh. The harsh reality is if a state title is the only criteria for success, next season might be a failure, too.

Losing O’Leary, Maggitt and Brissett will hurt, but Dwyer will also lose a lot of seniors who started, several of whom played both ways. The defense takes the biggest hit. Starting cornerbacks Darrell Hunter and Telvince Way and safeties Shawn McClaine and Tommylee Lewis all depart. Starting linebackers Jimelle James, Leroy Kelson and Corey Smith, too.

Junior linemen Patrick Miller and Heath Walker return, but Daevonte Barnett, Shubert Bastien, Rob Michuda and Keith Bowers are gone.

Other returning players who got ample playing time this season include WR/DBs Bobby Moss and Julian Whigham, LB Anthony Williams, QB/K Bobby Puyol, WR Clint Stephens and RB Cortney Lowery. Dwyer spent most of the season dominating, but it will be hard-pressed to achieve the same level next year.

That said, have to tip your cap to the Panthers. Sure, they were blessed with some elite athletes, but they’re a well coached group that showed up, played hard and kept their focus on their goal of repeating as state champs. If not for a few broken plays and a key injury, they might be four quarters away from doing just that. Heck of a run.

That’s all for now. Thanks to everyone who read, sent Twitter messages, and left comments on the blog or in my email inbox. You’re made me laugh, you’ve made me think, and you’ve made the job a lot more fun. Onward and upward.

* * *

GAME BLOG

FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER FOR MORE UPDATES

First of all, teammate Jeff Greer has to be commended for the job he’s doing in Orlando. He’s pulling triple duty, covering Glades Day, American Heritage and Glades Central today and tomorrow. As always, he’s been a beast on Twitter and in his live blogs. Top-shelf work from the kid.

As such, I’m blatantly borrowing his format. Keep it here for quarter-by-quarter thoughts, big news, and postgame updates, and follow me on Twitter for the play-by-play.

After last year’s 42-15 blowout, Armwood comes in with a chip on its shoulder. That was apparent as soon as the teams encountered each other during warmups.

After coming out of their locker room, Armwood players, wearing their home blue uniforms with black pants, steamed toward midfield. Hawks linebacker DJ Hitchman (No. 34 in your program) bounced up to Dwyer cornerback Darrell Hunter and started jawing.

“I hope you ready! I hope you ready!” he shouted toward Hunter.

“I hope YOU ready!” Hunter shouted back, before Dwyer coach Jack Daniels snarled, “Hey 34, turn around, and shut up!”

After, Daniels was asked if Armwood does the most talking of any team they’ve faced. “They all talk that much,” Daniels said. Hey, that’s life at the top of the mountain.

So there’s that. Plus, there’s two large banners on the home stands, facing the visiting side of the field, that read “ARMWOOD DEFENSE” and “THE REAL D BLOCK” in reference to the Hawks’ defense, which calls itself the same nickname as does Dwyer. (More on that here.)

About 100 Dwyer fans are on the visiting side, including FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops — a presumed Dwyer fan this evening — who spent time talking to Dwyer tight end Nick O’Leary during warmups.

Three keys to the game

1. Armwood doesn’t miss assignments.
The Hawks “have no great players, no big-time players. We run the ball well, we hit on our assignments,” head coach Sean Callahan said. The Hawks aren’t big, fast, or laden with Division 1 talent. They’re well-coached and, well, unbeaten (13-0).

2. Hawks will go deep. The Hawks won the 2003 and 2004 state titles thanks to a strong run game. Now, they’re throwing out of a spread offense, and their quarterback, senior Josh Grady, is the best they’ve have had in a long time. Grady, deciding between Iowa State and Wake Forest offers, is mobile and will look to wide receiver and Purdue commit A.J. King (5-11, 163).

3. McClaine vs. Hawks linebackers. Inside linebacker D.J. Hitchman and outside linebacker Eric Striker are the keys to the Hawks’ 3-4 defense. Last week against Palm Bay, Dwyer’s Shawn McClaine was able to slice up the D, but Daniels said he’ll look to balance it out a little more this week. The Hawks’ signature win, a 17-0 beatdown of state-ranked powerhouse Tampa-Plant, impressed Daniels. “They dominated Plant. Never let them get going. It wasn’t a close game at all.”

FIRST QUARTER

Armwood had the biggest play of the opening quarter. Running back Matt Jones caught a pass over the middle 72 yards for a score that made it 7-5.

Yes, 7-5.

Dwyer was helped by Armwood’s sloppy opening few minutes. The Hawks committed three penalties for 45 yards (two personal fouls and a block in the back), and Dwyer’s Bobby Puyol capitalized by kicking two field goals (25 and 37 yards).

Dwyer also got a safety when, from the 13-yard line, Armwood’s snapper hikes the ball out of the end zone.

But Armwood got it right. Running back Matt Jones caught a pass over the middle and blew past Dwyer’s Telvince Way and Shawn McClaine.

On the ensuing drive, Dwyer’s McClaine answered. From the 26, he took a handoff 54 yards before he stumbled and was caught by Armwood’s Kennon Jackson. On first down, Brissett found Nick O’Leary for 16 yards.

But on third-and-goal from the 6, Brissett took a shotgun snap and had linebacker Harvellio Buie in his face. Brissett stiff-armed him as he went backward, but was finally brought down for a loss of 17.

On the first play of the second quarter, Puyol kicked a fourth-down field goal from 37 yards to go ahead 8-7.

SECOND QUARTER

Thanks to two big passing plays, Armwood overcame a sloppy start to take a 13-8 halftime lead over defending Class 4A state champion Dwyer.

Senior quarterback Josh Grady hit senior running back Matt Jones (72 yards) and sophomore receiver Ronnie Thomas (38) for touchdowns. Grady finished the half 4-of-6 for 122 yards.

The Hawks pressured Dwyer quarterback Jacoby Brissett like he hadn’t been pressured all season, forcing him out of the pocket, and to the ground on a 17-yard sack by Harvellio Buie. Brissett finished the half 5-of-15 for 43 yards, by far his worst performance of the season. Not helping him was receiver Tommylee Lewis, the normally reliable senior, who had three drops.

Dwyer was without the services of star tight end Nick O’Leary, who missed most of the second quarter — it could have been all of the second quarter. In the first quarter, O’Leary was targeted once and had a 16-yard catch.

Dwyer’s Shawn McClaine carried 11 times for 86 yards, including a 54-yard gain.

Update from Dwyer trainer: Nick O’Leary has no feeling in his shoulder, possibly a pinched nerve. Return is questionable.

THIRD QUARTER

When it looked as bleak as it had all season, Dwyer caught a break that lifted them to its first lead since the opening minutes.

But the feeling didn’t last long.

With a 13-8 lead and less than three minutes left in the quarter, Armwood’s Josh Grady fumbled on the four-yard line thanks to a strip by Leroy Kelson, and Dwyer’s Tommylee Lewis picked up the gift and raced 96 yards for a touchdown.

But Matt Jones beat up Dwyer’s interior defense for a few quick gains, and Grady rolled out and found Ronnie Thomas for a 60-yard score. Armwood went for 2, and Anthony Williams and Curt Maggitt forced Grady to throw it away. Armwood led, 19-14, at the end of the third.

FOURTH QUARTER

After Dwyer drove up the field 74 yards for a touchdown in the final minutes, Armwood’s Darrell “Ash” Dudney kicked a 44-yard field goal as the final second ticked off the clock, sending Armwood (14-0) to the Class 4A state final and sending Dwyer (12-2), the defending state champions, home.

Armwood, 22-20, in a finish that was flat-out stunning.

Just as he did in Dwyer’s season-opening loss to Cleveland-Glenville, Jacoby Brissett put the Panthers on his back. On Dwyer’s scoring drive, which made it 20-19 with 19 seconds remaining, Brissett found receivers for gains of 14 and 10, and took a quarterback keeper for 9 yards on a crucial fourth-and-6. With a defender hanging on him, Brissett (10-for-26, 115 yards) hit Tommylee Lewis in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left.

But Armwood had the answer.

Starting from his own 33 after the kick, senior quarterback Josh Grady hit senior tailback Matt Jones for a gain of 29, and then took a keeper himself for 9 yards.

Armwood’s Dudney set up from 44 yards out. The kick was straight, a bit wobbly, and for Dwyer, crushing.

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