Posted: 2:38 am Saturday, September 10th, 2011
By Jeff Greer
UPDATED Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
BOCA RATON — It was supposed to be an early night for Atlantic and Boca Raton fans.
(And writers, but who cares about writers?)
It was a 5:30 p.m. kickoff at Boca between the homestanding Bobcats and former district rival Atlantic. But several events conspired together to make this Friday night a memorable one.
Unless, of course, you’re the head coach of either team.
Atlantic raced out to a 21-0 lead and stretched it to 35-6 early in the third quarter, but narrowly crawled out of Boca with a 35-32 win. Boca, which stormed back from a 16-point deficit last week against West Boca and won 30-23, couldn’t quite make the same late charge again.
Atlantic coach Chris Bean was angry his team almost lost a game it led by 29 points. Boca coach Keith Byars was angry his team started slow again.
Beyond that, the game ended at 11:17. Atlantic was late arriving at Boca because the early start created a difficult turnaround for Atlantic’s players to be ready. The first half nearly took two hours. Then we got a two-hour lightning delay. Then the second half took another 100-plus minutes.
For all that, the weirdest part of the night was the game itself.
A win that didn’t feel like one. Bean’s Eagles produced 291 passing yards, 100 rushing yards, 11 first downs and four passing touchdowns and even forced three turnovers on defense. But they also put 113 penalty yards on the bill, and they inexplicably kept passing the ball on offense after taking a 35-6 lead in the third quarter. They allowed 204 yards of Boca offense in three second-half scoring drives.
After Chad Ward’s 10-yard touchdown pass drove up a 29-point lead, Atlantic ran 23 plays over the remaining four possessions of the game. Of those plays, nine were passes and a 10th was a sack. The Eagles committed two penalties in that span. One of Atlantic quarterback AJ Puente’s passes was even intercepted, but the defender on the play was called for defensive holding.
But Bean was more concerned about his team’s discipline. Not just penalties, though those numbers were woeful, but following instructions and assignments, too. He spoke for almost four minutes after the game and didn’t stray from his message one bit.
“I’m thinking that it’s a discipline issue,” he said. “Sports are about rhythm. When you do things to interrupt your rhythm, you put yourself in position to lose whatever you gained. That’s what this game epitomized tonight: losing rhythm, being undisciplined, losing your way and then you fight for your life.
“We have weapons, we have talent. It’s not about talent. Folks say, ‘Oh, look at the talent. Look at this and that.’ When you have undisciplined … we have players throwing their helmets on the side. We’ve got some issues to resolve. Until we resolve those issues, we’ll put ourselves in situations like this.”
When a coach has a clear issue he wants to discuss, it’s best to just let him or her go. So I responded with a quick follow-up: Was Atlantic saved by the clock?
“Oh, without a doubt. That ain’t no secret. Ain’t no secret. If we didn’t score before the half, we would’ve lost the game. All that was big.
“‘Cause now the defense is just trying to keep them from getting into the end zone. You get a 15-yard penalty, you miss a tackle there. Plays that should be routine plays were missed. That’s concentration. We lost our concentration.
“We could’ve easily lost this game or we could’ve easily blown it out. If there was more time on the clock, they would’ve won this game. Ain’t no secret about that. But if we wouldn’t have done the stupid things in the first half and had rhythm going into the second half, we could’ve blown the game out. We could’ve been unreachable and they would’ve wanted to go home. Last week, they came back and won — and they lost some players, but they still had that inner core belief that they could come back and win the game. We were fighting all those different entities. And that’s the result we get.”
Slow starts frustrate Byars.Boca fell behind so quickly, it felt like Friday’s game was headed to a rout — an embarrassing rout. Puente didn’t have to hide much on the first four plays from scrimmage for Atlantic. After a game-opening sack for a loss of 10 yards, Puente threw to 6-foot-4 sophomore receiver Adly Enoicy for 29 yards on a jump ball on the right side.
Then he threw a 38-yard jump ball. To Enoicy. On the right side. That went for a touchdown.
The first play of the next drive? A jump ball. To Enoicy. On the right side. Twenty-six yards.
The fourth time the play worked came at the end of the second quarter.
A jump ball. To Enoicy. On the right side. Thirty yards. On fourth-and-15. After an incomplete pass, Puente hit Ward for his first touchdown catch of the day, an 18-yard toss down the left flank. That made it 28-6 with 14 seconds left in the first half.
Game over, right? Sure felt like it.
The teams traded punts and turnovers for the first seven-plus minutes of the third quarter. Then Atlantic pierced Boca’s D with a 30-yard screen to Tevin Spells. The next play was Ward’s 10-yard TD catch mentioned above.
Though Boca furiously rallied, the hole was too big. And that’s where we tune into Byars’ post-game thoughts.
“We have to figure out some things in practice,” Byars said. “I’ll take the blame for us starting slow. I need a reevaluation of things that I’m doing as head coach because we’re coming out too slow. You can’t do that. You can’t. We can’t play a quarter and a half consistently and expect to have great success. That’s what it was tonight. We can’t spot good teams that many points. I don’t care who you play, you can’t. This is varsity football. You shouldn’t do that.
“We had a chance to win the game. Don’t do that. The way I’ve seen us play in the middle of the third quarter through the rest of the game, I should see that all the time. When we play like that, we’ll be awesome. We have to figure out — I’ll wear the hat on that. That’s on me. We need to start faster. That’s my job as the coach.”
Jojo was a man. Jojo Sweeney not only has a top-five first name in area football, he also had one of the top games so far this season. The Boca senior had six receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns. He also scooped up a fumble and took it 68 yards to the house with 3:37 to play in the ballgame, turning a 35-24 affair into a 35-32 shoe-scraper with one “Go Jojo, go!” sprint to pay dirt.
“He had a tremendous game,” Byars said. “He’s been a guy that’s been somewhat under the radar, but he’s a hard worker. He plays both sides of the ball. He’s gassed right now. He should be. He’s gonna be good. He’s having a tremendous season so far and I’m looking for bigger and better things from him.”
Injuries. Boca’s Tard McCoy suffered a slight concussion and will likely not play in Boca’s game against Jupiter. Atlantic’s Gerard Fulton dislocated his elbow on a big hit in the first half and will be out for a week.
The numbers game. I could be all fancy and try to, you know, write sentences around the bulging stats from tonight’s crazy game, but that’s boring. So, here are the game’s best stats, right in the kisser:
Atlantic was 5 of 15 on third downs and 3 for 4 on fourth downs. Boca was 4 for 10 on third downs and 1 for 2 on fourth downs.
AJ Puente: 16 of 29, 291 yards, four touchdowns, sacked six times for 44 yards.
Tevin Spells: 14 carries, 108 yards, one touchdown.
Adly Enoicy: Four catches, 123 yards, one touchdown.
Chad Ward: Five catches, 64 yards, two touchdowns.
Marcus Gaskins: Four carries, 11 yards, one catch, 25 yards, one receiving touchdown.
Kevin Anderson: 17 of 32, 276 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, two sacks for 10 yards.
Keith Byars II: 16 carries, 85 yards, five catches, 19 yards, two touchdowns, one 2-point conversion.
Jojo Sweeney: see above.
Ron Moore: Two catches, 65 yards.
Mario Nanni: Three catches, 24 yards.