Posted: 1:11 am Friday, September 9th, 2011

How Gardens wore down West Boca and other thoughts from Thursday’s game 

By Jeff Greer

PALM BEACH GARDENS — It didn’t take long to figure out Palm Beach Gardens’ offensive game plan on Thursday night against West Boca Raton.

Roshard Burney (ESPN)

Fifteen of the Gators’ opening 18 plays were running plays. Fifteen. There were two beasts to feed: Alex Clark and Roshard Burney. Combined, they got 32 carries and 191 yards. Clark scored three touchdowns, while Burney’s 29-yard run set up Gardens’ third touchdown. The best stat of the night: Of their 32 carries, only five went for more than 10 yards. They literally wore down West Boca.

“Tonight was obviously Alex’s night,” Gardens coach Chris Davis said. “He had a real strong game, but Roshard really came alive in the second half and ran with a lot of swag and a lot of attitude. That’s the kind of player he is. When he gets going, he’s hard to stop.”

Last week, in a 53-0 win over Palm Beach Lakes, they got 304 yards on 27 carries. In the kickoff classic against Port St. Lucie, they took 23 carries for 190 yards.

Hopefully you’ve noticed a theme.

Gardens is going bludgeon opponents every week. Absolutely bludgeon them. It’s no secret. And they were merciless Thursday night. Standing on the Gardens’ sideline, I heard the same few play calls over and over. I heard “run it again” a few times. And it worked.

It’s hard not to ignore the staggering numbers Gardens has produced. Three fall games, three wins by an average of 33 points and its two top rushers average 228.3 yards a game. Not a bad start.

Now the going gets tougher. West Boca played without two of its starting linebackers — Jawand Blue is serving a two-game suspension and Nick Telford is still recovering from an injury suffered in last week’s loss to Boca Raton. Gardens’ next few games will tell us a lot about how good the Gators really are. Palm Beach Central, Jupiter and John I. Leonard present winnable-but-challenging games for the Gators.

If the Gators are going to reach 4-1 or even 5-0, they’ll need the kind of defensive performance they got tonight. Sure, they gave up 171 yards to West Boca’s bullish running back Eugene Bethea, but they also forced four turnovers and limited the Bulls to 22 passing yards.

“I was real proud of (the defense),” Davis said. “We had a real physical week of practice. Korey Wells played his guts out. He always does. And we had Romahd Holman filling in at sam linebacker and he’s got a heart as big of this stadium. I’m just real proud of both those guys.”

Bullish out of the gate. West Boca started nicely on Thursday night. Gardens’ first two drives ended with a punt and an interception. The Bulls capitalized on the interception by Jimmy Masson and scored on a 1-yard run by quarterback Zach Miner. But they never conjured up the get-it-done dust again.

West Boca got at least one first down on five of its final six drives. Twice they moved into Gardens territory. Here’s how the final six possessions ended:

1. Interception
2. Turnover on downs (at the Gardens 38)
3. End of first half
4. Lost fumble
5. Interception
6. End of game

Yet for all that, it didn’t feel like a blowout.

“I thought there were a couple things that, if we had done them right, we would’ve been in the game,” West Boca coach Willie Dodaro said. “We were our worst enemy. We stopped a few good drives … We gave them a couple of good, short fields and it hurt us. It was a hard-fought game. I knew we had to be physical with them because they’re bigger than us, and I think we were physical enough, but we stopped ourselves. We stopped our own momentum when we needed that one punch-in.”

Bright spots for West Boca. It’s hard not to point to Bethea, a north-south runner who punished Gardens on 25 carries for 171 yards. The junior back is 6-0, 180 pounds, but runs like he has another 20-30 pounds on him. He’s punishing, and he carried every drive that went anywhere for West Boca.

Another player with potential — Miner — didn’t have the world’s best game, but you can see why West Boca likes having him as its signal caller. The senior is elusive in the pocket and a good ball carrier. He doesn’t have the biggest receiving targets, and he struggled with his throws on the run, but credit the Gardens defense for making his night difficult. That, and it’s tough to play quarterback after taking a 45-minute break. Kind of like pitching after a rain delay.

Oh yeah, Avery Young. Before I go, I just wanted to mention the monstrous crunch that Gardens tackle Avery Young put on an unsuspecting West Boca defender. It was a swing pass out left to Frank Brown, who had a nice game himself. Brown cut back inside and took a defender’s momentum with him. That defender’s momentum met the freight train that is Young. Let’s just say no one should ever wish that another man.

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