Posted: 12:21 pm Friday, September 16th, 2011
By Jeff Greer
DELRAY BEACH — Late in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s instant classic between Glades Central and American Heritage, Central’s do-it-all star Will Likely was screaming on the sidelines.
He was on his back, wailing. He could hardly walk because of his calf cramps. His teammate, quarterback Tanner Redish, rushed over to stretch Likely’s leg. It was just enough for him to drum up the strength to go out for one more drive, one more series, one more stop.
A few minutes later, it was Likely rising above a Heritage receiver as if he had puppet strings on his back and a puppeteer in the sky and batting down the game’s final pass.
As I wrote in my deadline-rushed, last-minute, down-to-the-wire game report, Likely didn’t get up after his team clinched a 41-34 overtime win. His teammates, for all the energy they’d expended all night, sprinted in every direction like frantic ants on a sidewalk, shouting and hollering and dancing and smiling and high-fiving and hugging.
Then, like he did for the one final stop his team needed, Likely summoned the strength to stand up one last time, like a heavyweight boxer who’d just beat out a 10-count as his opponent stayed on the mat.
“He’s always working hard, he’s the hardest working kid on the team,” said Glades Central senior linebacker Jatavis Brown, who had 18 tackles in the win. “It never surprises me when he makes big plays for us.”
Being the area’s newest superstar is a heavy burden to carry. American Heritage was so concerned, so obsessed with stopping Likely, I’m surprised they didn’t just keep the front gates closed on Thursday night before the Central bus arrived. And for a kid who is all of 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, who is the walking nightmare of every coach on Glades Central’s schedule, he still shows up and gets it done. He still outjumps receivers. He still shreds special teams units. He still gets open on his routes. And he keeps getting up.
There are a million story lines to write about from that game, but his is my personal favorite.
Here are a few others:
Welcome to big leagues, kid. For all the chatter and criticism of Redish, Central’s new transfer quarterback from Glades Day, he certainly showed up Thursday. The kid had heard it all: Too slow, weak arm, couldn’t think quick enough, bad decision-making.
But he did it all Thursday. He made two mistakes all night — a miscommunication on a Jaime Wilson route led to an errant throw to a Heritage safety for an interception and a slow read reaction to a blitz caused a delay of game — and more than made up for them with his positives.
He was 17 of 26 for 241 yards and four touchdowns. He engineered the game-tying drive that started with four minutes left, making two smart throws — including the scoring one — and a hugely important 6-yard run on the second play of the series. To the tie the game, he did what any smart man would do in his position: He threw to Likely.
For a quarterback who has felt the heat and has been much maligned in the Raiders community so far, he won over a lot of fans last night, and deservedly so.
And while we’re giving credit where it’s due, the Glades Central offensive line played extremely well. As did the Heritage O-line. I was impressed by both. But Central struggled immensely against Dwyer. On Thursday night, the Raiders hogs didn’t give up a sack until the last play of regulation, when Greg Davis had nowhere to go on his Hail Mary try. Considering the fact that Mike Wallace was lined up on the ends for Heritage, that’s an incredible job against a very good Heritage D-line.
The only time Heritage got to the quarterback was on a fourth-and-inches in the fourth quarter, when Blake Davis made an incredible jump over center and crunched Redish as the quarterback tried to sneak for a first down. Other than that, it was a great night for both offensive lines, and Redish benefited from it.
Bryant is a beast. Likely is one of the top three junior prospects in the area. Greg Bryant is, too. Heritage’s ankle-breaking, gut-busting, blow-by back did just about everything Thursday night, including playing cornerback on defense. He took 16 carries for 202 yards and two touchdowns, both of which were electric runs.
He also made a fantastic catch — the first completion of the game for Heritage — over a Central defender while falling out of bounds. For those counting at home, by the way, that’s two official games in the book for Bryant, and two 200-yard-rushing nights. Kid is an absolute animal.
There was some discussion, or so I’d heard later, that he was hurt in the second half. From what I’ve learned about Heritage, if Bryant isn’t playing, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s banged up, though he was no doubt exhausted at the end of the game. The game plan the Stallions use is simple: Rotate Bryant and Jeremy Gaskins frequently and mix in quarterback Marcus Davis as a third runner. It worked very well tonight despite the loss. Gaskins did most of his work in the second half. Save for one big run, Bryant did most of his in the first.
Gaskins gives Heritage a good bruiser, while Davis is an elusive dual-threat and Bryant does a little bit of everything. In fact, he got nine carries in the first half and seven in the second, so I’m not sure what the injury chatter was about.
“Greg Bryant was great at times,” American Heritage coach Doug Socha said. “But you know, when guys are playing both ways, it’s tough.”
Baker proved his worth. Glades Central running back Aaron Baker deserves his props, too. The kid ran for 107 yards and the game-winning touchdown, which was a 10-yard, down-hill, get-out-of-my-way romp into the end zone on the first play of overtime.
He also made the critically important screen-pass-catch-and-run for a score in the first half, and he had another catch out of the backfield, too. As difficult as it is for a running back to get moving down hill at full speed from the shotgun sidecar, Baker does a great job with it. He’s at speed when he gets to the line of scrimmage, and for a bigger kid (5-11, 210), he is pretty elusive. Just ask the Heritage secondary.
“He came through for us tonight,” Central linebacker Don’Kevious Johnson said of Baker. “He was the better back tonight. He was the best back on both teams.”
When it looked like a blowout. At halftime, with a 27-10 lead, Glades Central felt pretty good. And there was no reason not to: The Raiders scored scored 27 points in the second quarter and loaded up 185 passing yards with a specific strategy. Glades Central offensive coordinator Reidel Anthony wanted to pick on Davis and Bryant, who both had to play cornerback in addition to offense and cover Likely and Wilson.
On five consecutive plays, Wilson and Likely ran vertical routes down field, forcing Bryant and Davis to run five straight wind sprints. The first two plays didn’t work, falling incomplete. The third and fourth paid off, as both receivers earned pass-interference calls. That moved Central from the Heritage 49 to 19. On first-and-10 at the 19, Likely ran a fade to the right corner. He drew not one but two likely pass interference calls on the play and still managed to make the catch. Noticing a theme here for Likely?
After Bryant’s 86-yard TD run made it 13-10, Central went right back to what worked. This time, they set up a screen perfectly. Heritage felt that if Baker didn’t get handoff, it was a passing down. And Baker, who is a big kid who can help with blocking on passing downs, was left alone for that very reason: Heritage thought he was a blocker. Instead, he leaked out, caught a screen and weaved his way for 52 yards and a score.
The next Central drive, Redish uncorked a 36-yard bomb down the left side to Wilson, who tip-toed out at the Heritage 26. Then Baker moved the Raiders to first-and-goal at the 9. After a few penalties, Redish found Wlson again, this time for a 9-yard score. (On a side note: That was the only ugly part of the game — combined, the teams committed 24 penalties for 206 yards.)
On the sidelines, several other media guys and I thought Heritage was hemorrhaging on D and the game was turning into a blowout. Not quite.
“We knew who their playmakers were,” Socha said. “It’s quite obvious. We took some stupid penalties in the first half that I question a little bit, but we just played a little two-deep man under (in the second half) to slow them down.”
The comeback. In the second half, Heritage started pounding the middle on offense. The Stallions’ offensive line simply blew up the inside guys on Central’s 5-2 formation. Heritage ran for 356 yards in the game and basically abandoned the pass. On defense, Heritage only allowed 62 yards rushing and 56 yards passing.
On the first drive, Bryant broke free for a 60-yard touchdown scamper. Heritage picked off Redish on the next series and turned that into a field goal. After giving up a Central first down, the Stallions blew up a screen play to Baker and forced a punt (there were only three punts in the entire game). They went 77 yards in 3:57, gaining 57 yards on the ground and another 20 through Central penalties.
Then they forced a turnover on downs with the game tied at 27 (that was Blake Davis’s big tackle on Redish), and marched in from the Central 39. Up 34-27 and rolling, Heritage looked like it had the game won. If anything, the Stallions deserve credit for a great comeback. But the Raiders just kept coming, scoring on a six-play, 63-yard drive to tie the game with 1:31 to go, and then finishing things in overtime.
“It was a great game to watch,” Socha said. “We didn’t play good enough in the first half. We just didn’t finish. We didn’t make plays when we needed to on both sides of the ball.”
But like I said above, there’s something about Glades Central and its players. They never, ever quit. There’s a passion unique to Central kids. They do not possess a shred of doubt in their bodies, and they showed it Thursday night in what has to be the best high school football game I’ve ever seen.
They should’ve televised this one.