Posted: 3:08 am Tuesday, September 6th, 2011
By Jeff Greer
BELLE GLADE — Leave it to the quietest kid in the stadium to single-handedly change the tide of a game.
Glades Central linebacker Jatavis Brown doesn’t say a whole lot. He doesn’t have to, really. He lets his hits do the talking, like the one he delivered on the first play of the fourth quarter in Glades Central’s 24-10 win over Dwyer in the first-ever nationally televised football game in Palm Beach County.
Brown punished Dwyer quarterback Faton Bauta as Bauta released a pass toward the sideline.
As the play developed, Brown made a 15-yard beeline for Bauta, whose scramble out of the pocket left him unprotected and unprepared for one of the hardest-hitting players in the county. Brown launched himself forward and the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Bauta crunched like an accordion under cinder blocks. (I asked Brown what it must feel like to be hit by him: “It has to be terrible,” he said with his go-to sheepish grin.)
As the ball wobbled toward the sideline, fellow linebacker Dominique Gibson dove and knocked it down. Brown had so much excitement in his body that he couldn’t contain it, sending each limb into wild contortions as he shouted and bounced around in front of his teammates. It was almost as if he’d been harnessing all his energy, all his emotions for that one play, as if he’d been quiet all along as part of his master plan to explode on the football field.
That play woke up a sleepy affair, a game that previously had been bogged down by back-field breakthroughs, missed blocking assignments and sloppy play. Commenters from across the area were calling the contest ugly, a disappointing show. At that point, it had been. Then Brown busted it wide open, and you could sense the Raiders rising.
1. Two Likely heroes and their unlikely friend. Dwyer punted the ball away after Brown’s big hit (which was his eleventy billionth big hit of the game, by the way. In fact, he played so well, even my brother, watching the game on ESPN 1,200 miles away, sent me a text message: “#2 is really good.”).
Glades Central took over at its own 30. To that point in the game, the Raiders had produced 47 yards of offense on 30 plays from scrimmage. (Go ahead, let that sink in for a second. I’ll wait.) Burly running back Aaron Baker took the first carry of the drive 14 yards. He pushed the pile for 2 yards on the next down. Then Greg Davis threw incomplete, setting up third-and-8.That’s when the unlikely hero (Davis, who at one time considered transferring and was disciplined in the spring for missing offseason workouts) connected with a very Likely hero (Will Likely) for a 45-yard gain. Davis’s throw was perfect, just past the outstretched hands of Dwyer corner Deandre Bozeman and into Likely’s. The diminutive Likely, who is all of 5-8, 170, tip-toed his way out of bounds at the Dwyer 9. It was the first big play of the game for Glades Central since the opening kickoff (more on that in a second), and it led to a 5-yard touchdown pass from Tanner Redish to Jaime Wilson on a perfectly executed out pattern.
Just like that, Glades Central was wide awake, the stands behind the Raiders rumbling. It was a blood-in-the-water moment for the Raiders. They could sense Dwyer’s undoing.
Bauta’s first pass on the ensuing possession was swatted down. His second misfired. His third uncharacteristically dropped by receiver Julian Whigham, who’d already cashed in two interceptions for the afternoon. So again Dwyer punted, and again Davis and Likely connected.
From the Dwyer 45, same distance, same passer, same receiver, even the same cornerback. This time, a more acrobatic catch. Davis’s ball arched high and picked up momentum as it fell. Bozeman mistimed his jump and tipped the ball as it came down. The ball skipped into Likely’s upper chest and stuck to him as he floated in mid-air. He refocused and grabbed it, never really fully holding on until he was getting up to celebrate his touchdown. 20-10. Game over.
Likely, who took the opening kickoff 99 yards to the house, was one of the heroes. Davis, an unlikely partner, had risen to the occasion. Brown set it all up.
“I knew the fourth quarter, they’d be tired and we’d be in shape,” Wilson said. “I already knew Will was gonna do that. I know what type of player Will is. I knew he’d step up in a big game like this.”
2. Oh, what a defense. The first few weeks of a season always favor a defense. Always. Both teams played extremely well on the defensive side of the ball, though Dwyer’s D tuckered out in the fourth quarter under the Belle Glade sun.
Glades Central held Dwyer to 55 rushing yards on 31 attempts and 84 passing yards on 19 attempts. The Raiders forced two fumbles and an interception. They were in the backfield all game. Defensive ends Paul Whyte and Cordero Phillips constantly wreaked havoc off the edges. Brown, Gibson and third linebacker Don’Kevious Johnson filled the gaps. Safety Crevon LeBlanc dropped some serious lumber on Dwyer’s Johnnie Dixon on a pass over the middle. It was the usual sight for Glades Central fans who’ve become almost spoiled by the talent the Raiders’ defense has possessed with this current group of players.
For the rest of the county, it was a warning.
“I challenged the boys to have my back,” new coach Roosevelt Blackmon said. “In the second half they played Raider football.”
Blackmon had paced the sideline in the fourth quarter, sitting on a 14-10 lead and saying to no one in particular, “We don’t need to pass the ball, we can just run it. My defense is playing too good.”
One of his players shouted back, “Our defense is playing great!”
Blackmon, who always looks like he’s a nanosecond away from a smile, shot a glance in the player’s direction and grinned. He knew his faceless responder was right.3. Still work to do. The common refrain from the older players on the team — Wilson, Johnson, Brown, Gibson, Likely, LeBlanc, Davis — was that the Raiders still have work to do. Ailing quarterback Tanner Redish was shaky in his debut for Glades Central, though his bruised shoulder certainly had something to do with it. Redish was 8-of-13 for 37 yards with two interceptions and a touchdown. He and his center had trouble getting on the same page on snaps and exchanges, and the ball came loose on several occasions.
“We were too sloppy today, too many mistakes,” Gibson said. “We have a long way to go so we’re gonna hit practice hard and work some of these things out. We’ll be OK, but we have to work at it.”
Glades Central committed 10 penalties for 95 yards, including a few jumps offside. They also lost a fumble on an exchange. But for the sloppy play, the Raiders still came out golden, victorious and largely healthy.
All in all, a good experience. The game gave an unlikely hero his shine, and two stars their due. And it all came on national TV. As he walked toward his teammates, Gibson wanted to add one more thought after his team’s win that, at least for this season, put an end to the “Who’s the county’s best team?” chatter.
“Just do me a favor,” he said, “put us at No. 1.”