Posted: 6:06 pm Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Day-after quick hits from Atlantic vs. American Heritage 

By Matt Porter

Separated by less than five miles, the teams had never met – Atlantic, one of the oldest schools in Palm Beach County, the result of the post-integration merger of Seacrest and Carver High Schools; American Heritage, a Plantation-based private school that planted its flag in Delray Beach in 1997.

American Heritage rumbled into Eagles territory and left with a win. Click the picture for a photo gallery from the game. (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)

American Heritage rumbled into Eagles territory and left with a win. Click the picture for a photo gallery from the game. (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)

After American Heritage’s thrilling 33-28 win Friday night, Atlantic coach Chris Bean said there’s no rivalry.

“No. Not enough history,” Bean said. “I’m old school. I go back to the history of Seacrest High. It’s not a rivalry yet.”

Meanwhile, American Heritage coach Doug Socha said he thinks the teams just began one.

“This is a huge game for us,” Socha said. “This is a huge game for the city, it’s a huge game for the two programs. This is different than a lot of rivalries. Our kids grow up together, they know each other. It’s personal, but I think both teams kept it classy. I’m proud of that. I think it’s a big-time rivalry now.”

One thing is certain: When the teams meet next year on Linton Blvd., American Heritage might have to install more bleachers.

Here are a few more quick hits from the game, which saw Atlantic charge back from a 19-0 halftime deficit but fall short in the final minutes.

1. Atlantic’s offense can score with anyone. Early on, junior quarterback A.J. Puente was the Eagles’ MVP – as a punter. In the first half, he got off punts of 51, 26 and 40 yards, once averting disaster with a leaping, one-hand grab of a bad snap before he put his boot to the ball. But Puente and his receivers got in tune, and Atlantic showed it will take chances downfield all night.

Puente (17-35, 263, 3 TD, 2 INT) has two outstanding weapons in senior Chad Ward Jr. (4 catches, 56 yards, TD) and sophomore Adly Enoicy (7 catches, 169 yards, 2 TD). Ward, an FAU commit, is as solid as they come at 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds. Enoicy looks like a young Kelvin Benjamin, gliding downfield and using his 6-4, 215-pound frame to win jump balls. Enoicy had grabs of 41, 46 and 70 yards where Puente put air under the ball and let the youngster do the rest.

Down 19-0 at half, Atlantic abandoned the running game entirely. The Eagles ran just four running plays in the second half, leaving junior Tevin Spells (10 carries, 7 yards) and senior Marcus Gaskin to protect Puente.

Atlantic’s offensive line struggled – they went offsides six times – but the Eagles’ new offensive line coach, Bob Liebowitz, is regarded as one of the best in the area. Have to think he’ll turn them around. Improvement there, along with more run/pass balance, could make Atlantic’s attack scary down the road.

2. Best of the bunch? There are some outstanding young running backs in South Florida. Kelvin Taylor. The currently injured Sony Michel. Greg Bryant might be the most complete ballcarrier, no matter the class.

American Heritage's Greg Bryant is only 16, but he was a man among boys Friday night.  (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)

American Heritage's Greg Bryant is only 16, but he was a man among boys Friday night. Click for more game photos. (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)

Friday night, Bryant showed everything you want in a back – low center of gravity, awareness, cutback ability, breakaway speed, the ability to plow over defenders who are in excellent position to tackle him. He ripped off a 66-yard gain where he burned the secondary, he stutter-stepped his way to 26 yards in the fourth quarter, he dragged a flock of Eagles for several yards into the end zone for an 11-yard TD. Bryant gained 215 yards and two scores on 18 carries, including 128 much-needed yards in the second half as the Eagles made their furious comeback attempt. He also played defensive back.

“I felt I had to push for the team,” said Bryant, who fought cramps from the third quarter on. He then gave credit to both his offensive line and quarterback Marcus Davis, who went 10-of-14 for 144 yards and a TD. “When we need something, he always comes through.”

3. First-rate second level. American Heritage’s linebackers are good, and senior Silmore Dallaway had the best night of all. While the Eagles were successful throwing over his head, Dallaway locked down nearly everything in his path. During one stretch in the second quarter, he had four tackles on six plays. After Atlantic began the second half with Brisly Estime’s 97-yard kickoff return and then recovered a fumble, Dallaway helped stifle Atlantic’s momentum with a fourth-down pass breakup. Later, Dallaway saved a sure touchdown by racing to catch up with Ward on a 40-yard passing play.

4. No day off Monday. Labor Day is about to take on a whole new meaning for Atlantic, which will spend Monday paying in sweat for committing 14 penalties for 135 yards.

“Bring your running shoes,” an Eagles assistant coach said, sending an ominous warning to a post-game huddle of players.

The Eagles’ discipline cost them early and late. Taking over down by 5 with 1:13 left in the game, a personal foul backed them up to their own 13, making a long-shot final drive much longer. Puente went past the line of scrimmage to pass and was called for an illegal forward pass. A quick screen play was complete, but illegal motion brought the ball all the way back to the 7.

Sloppiness isn’t unexpected here, with a young offense trying to drive the field in the final minute against a stout, experienced defense. But well before the pressure was on, Atlantic’s propensity for penalties hurt them.

“If we want to be a good football team, we’ve got to get those undisciplined issues out of our system,” Bean said. “Greg [Bryant], he’s a good back, he’s a great athlete, but we can’t give them the stupid stuff.”

Brisly Estime's 95-yard kickoff return opened the second half with a bang, but Atlantic fell short after a furious comeback. Click for more game photos. (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)

Brisly Estime's 95-yard kickoff return opened the second half with a bang, but Atlantic fell short after a furious comeback. Click for more game photos. (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)

5. Scheming Stallions. In a wild fourth quarter, American Heritage had several play calls that sucked the wind out of the Atlantic coaches I sat next to in the booth.

One of them was a bubble screen from Davis to Bryant with about six minutes left. Davis took the snap and backpedaled, saw he had numbers and delivered it on time.
The Eagles scrambled to the ball and caught Bryant, but only after 40 yards. Next play: from the 27-yard line, Davis threw a swing pass to Marcus Coby in the flat, who raced down to the 2 and fumbled. Edwin Thomas was backing him up, and picked it up and scored to (seemingly) put the game away, 33-21, with less than five minutes left.

Of course, it wasn’t over, as Puente-to-Enoicy went for 70 yards, and a 2-yard bullet to Enoicy made it 33-28 with 3:49 left. Thought Atlantic hit on several gambles and had several outstanding individual plays, the Stallions were more methodical. Coupled with one special back, another good one (Jeremy Gaskins) and a waterbug quarterback (Davis), they look just as good as they did at this time last year.

“We have some things to clean up,” Socha said, “but I’m very satisfied with the way we played.”

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