Posted: 12:07 am Thursday, August 25th, 2011
By Jeff Greer
The ball was snapped. Then flags flew and whistles blew. An interception was thrown and a few players kept playing.
Then all hell broke loose.
But let’s back up a bit. Things were chippy from the start of Wednesday night’s kickoff classic between Palm Beach Central and Oakland Park-Northeast.
Surely it had much to do with it being the season opener for both teams. That, combined with the crazy amount of individual talent on both sides of the ball, made for an excited buzz around the field. But that excitement led to chirping, and that chirping eventually led to a fight that prematurely ended Wednesday’s maiden contest of the 2011 season for both teams.
Northeast led 22-14 with 1:59 to play in the first half when administrators and officials called the game off.
1. So what happened? Palm Beach Central had rallied back from a 14-0 deficit to tie the game. Northeast responded with a ridiculous kick return by Northeast’s Stacey Coley that led to a touchdown. Both teams traded three-and-outs (threes-and-out?) after that, and that’s when the melee (Fracas? Donnybrook? Tussle?) entered the horizon.
Trailing 22-14 with 2:09 to play in the first half, Palm Beach Central coach Rod Harris brought out his two-minute-drill offense to see if his team could drum up another score before halftime. On first down from their own 22, the Broncos drew up a fade for receiver Angelo Jean-Louis. New quarterback Brock Bukowski, a transfer from Royal Palm Beach, lofted a perfect ball down the right flank. Jean-Louis snatched it with two hands and went out of bounds.
After a timeout, Bukowski snapped the ball. Whistles blew and multiple flags came down on the turf. Bukowski, who clearly didn’t hear the whistles, threw a pass that was picked off by a Northeast defender. Several other players, who presumably didn’t hear the whistles either, began their interception return procedure. Witnesses said one Northeast player appeared to put a hard block on unsuspecting Central running back Lloyd Howard. Needless to say Howard took exception to the block (again, probably because he thought the play was over and others didn’t).
(Just as a side note: From where I was standing on the sideline, I didn’t have a good vantage point to see what exactly prompted the brawl — if we can even call it that. As I tried to get a better look, I was being held back, along with most of Central’s bench. I got a nice cleat to the heel in the process. I’m listed as probable for work tomorrow. I knew there was a reason my mom always said to wear sturdy footwear.)
Anyway, that’s when the chaos broke out. Howard was in the thick of it, surrounded by Northeast players. Several players from both teams rushed onto the field, but credit both coaching staffs and many of the players from both teams for keeping everyone at bay as the officials broke up the kerfuffle.
In the end, there were so many flags on the field, it looked like every single official had thrown his. They met at midfield with administration officials and coaches. That’s when they called the game.
As he walked off the field, Harris said, “”I have no comment about all of that. It’s a preseason game. We don’t want anybody getting hurt or things to escalate.”
2. Personal fouls must’ve been a part of it. The confusion that led to the brawl was only the tip of the ice berg. Two actually counted — both against Northeast. There were several others that were offset on one play that had so many penalties, the officials eventually just decided to re-do the down.
There was chirping, too. Harris shouted, “Just play football!” several times at his players throughout the first half. Being on the Central sideline, I missed what the Northeast coaches were shouting at their guys. Probably something similar. I heard several players on both teams say the same thing to their chirping teammates.
3. Let’s talk football. Following Harris’ advice, let’s just talk football now. There were a lot of positives from Wednesday night’s game from Central’s perspective.
Jean-Louis is simply a game-changer. He only had one catch — the 23-yard fade — but he had a colossal block and drew two pass interference calls as well. His impact on the field is wide-ranging.
KC McDermott, who I wrote about earlier this week, is downright scary. His most notable attribute (on the sidelines at least) is his demeanor. He is focused and angry at all times, just like you want your linemen. He’s all of 6-foot-5, 270 pounds. He’s clearly one of the leaders of the team. And he’s 15 years old. Bright future for the youngest McDermott brother.
Bukowski also looked promising. He has nice mobility and made smart decisions. He was 5-for-10 for 72 yards and a touchdown. His touch might be his best asset. His 21-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Ray Wilson had just the right mix of loft and accuracy to lead the running back into the end zone.
“I thought Brock did really well,” Harris said. “Our team did a nice job bouncing back from 14-0. We’re a different team this year that can handle adversity a little bit better than we did in the past.”
4. Wilson can be a player. Wilson has a demeanor similar to McDermott’s. He’s an emotional guy. But he also showed signs of being a difference-maker for Central. He didn’t get a ton of touches (four carries, 12 yards, two catches, 38 yards), but he looked good when he had the pill. He broke right down the seam on his touchdown catch and busted through a tackler to score.
On his 4-yard touchdown run, he tangled with three defenders and reached for the goal line. He seems like the type of player who can complement the receiving talents of Jean-Louis and EJ Sardinha.
5. The defense still needs work. Central’s defense, for lack of a better phrase, looked porous in the early going. (Its offensive line held firm for most of the game and, as a unit, Central’s offense should be good this year.) Northeast opened with back-to-back scoring drives, going 85 yards in 11 plays and then 32 in eight to take a 14-0 lead.
On multiple plays in the first half, Central had Northeast’s quarterback surrounded deep in the backfield, but the QB escaped. Several other times, the Broncos simply didn’t make tackles. There were a few attempts to light up a Northeast ball carrier, but the tackles weren’t completed and the runner kept going. Other times, they just whiffed.
In all, Northeast ran for 58 yards and threw for 94 (on 7-of-13 passing). It converted eight first downs. And what’s worse, Northeast was 4-for-4 on its initial third-down-conversion attempts and finished 5-of-7.
But the Broncos did … buck up … (sorry) and turn momentum. The Broncos forced a three-and-out on the third drive and just didn’t have a chance when Northeast started its fourth drive on the Central 18. Then Central held firm on Northeast’s final drive of the half.
Harris wasn’t happy, though. His team plays Seminole Ridge in the season opener that counts next week, a tough order.
“We have to work on aligning right, keeping our assignments better and tackle better. We need to do a lot of tackling drills.”