Posted: 2:09 am Saturday, October 22nd, 2011
By Jeff Greer
LOXAHATCHEE — At one point late in the second quarter, Seminole Ridge led Palm Beach Gardens by three touchdowns and the game we’d touted as one of the games of the week no longer seemed in doubt.
All that changed on one play, a 55-yard pass from Gardens quarterback JP Caruso to lightning-fast receiver Frank Brown. Gardens needed four more plays to score, and the game heated up for the final 25 minutes or so, becoming a contender for Game of the Year.
Seminole Ridge did just enough to outlast Gardens 28-27, all-but-winning District 9-8A with a game to go on the district schedule. Ridge will be heavily favored against Jupiter, which beat Wellington on Friday, when the teams meet Nov. 4. Jupiter lost to Gardens, which plays Wellington that same week in November and will also be heavily favored. In other words, tonight’s game had all the makings of a critical district game. And as I wrote in my game report, it felt like the playoffs.
I had enough time to write a good bit about the game in that report — it was fun to watch, had two great running performances and a devastating finish — so I won’t go overboard with the after-game thoughts.
Starting fast. Ridge came out gunning, all systems go, all engines on blast. The Hawks flew to the ball on defense and just moved people on offense. Here’s a chart of the game’s first eight drives:
1. Gardens: Six plays, 12 yards. Punt.
2. Ridge: 11 plays, 74 yards. Touchdown, Gary Holmes.
3. Gardens: Three plays, 3 yards. Punt.
4. Ridge: Eight plays, 91 yards. Touchdown, Darian Williams.
5. Gardens: Five plays, 5 yards. Punt.
6. Ridge: Nine plays, 14 yards. Punt.
7. Gardens: 13 plays, 66 yards. Turnover on downs.
8. Ridge: Two plays, 74 yards. Touchdown, Gary Holmes.
So through the game’s opening 22 minutes, Gardens ran 27 plays and gained 86 yards. Not bad defense by Ridge, considering Gardens came into Friday’s game with the area’s top offense in terms of yardage. (It should be mentioned Gardens had a 76-yard touchdown pass voided by penalty during this span, but more on that later.)
In that same time span, Ridge ran 30 plays for 253 yards and three touchdowns.
“We knew from the get-go that we had to start off on the right foot because they’re a great team,” Holmes said.
Ridge coach Matt Dickmann agreed: “We’ve been intense all week. We had great practices. I felt really good coming into the game and we were rolling. Then we shot ourselves in the foot.”
The change. Through that first segment of the game, it really looked like Gardens just wasn’t prepared for the game’s intensity. But the aforementioned big play (Caruso-to-Brown) seemed to really pump some life into the Gators. They scored a few plays later and took a 21-7 deficit into halftime.
On the opening drive of the second half, Ridge picked up two quick first downs. But Holmes got drilled in the backfield for a 6-yard loss, setting up the first big defensive play of the game for Gardens. Ridge quarterback Antwan Washington felt serious pressure on third-and-14 and rushed his throw. The ball was tipped’n’picked by Peter Sylvain at the Ridge 49.
Twelve plays and 49 yards later, Jermaine Carn bullied his way in for a 1-yard score. 21-14, Ridge. Gardens rallied back from 28-14 to score twice in the fourth quarter, but a missed extra point was the difference.
“I think we had some fun in the second half, just playing football,” Gardens coach Chris Davis. “I felt like we were a little tight coming out and didn’t execute well offensively. But we showed good fight with that comeback.”
Holmes. Holmes said he took it upon himself to step up in this game. Well, he did a pretty good job of it. He ran for 221 yards on 31 carries and scored twice. His biggest play may have been his 41-yard scamper on third-and-4 halfway through the third quarter.
After that, Elie Turene went 6, Holmes went 1 and 7, and then Turene punched it in from the 1. 28-14, Ridge. That was a huge possession, and Holmes’ big run made it all happen.
In all, the soft-spoken Holmes had six runs for 10 or more yards, including a 71-yard touchdown run.
Burney. Holmes was awesome, and so was Gardens running back Roshard Burney. The powerful and shifty Burney had 184 yards on 32 carries. He scored twice in the fourth quarter. In Gardens’ hurry-up offense, there were times when Burney would run the ball, get tackled, disappear into the pile, be the last guy to get up, walk back to set up in formation, pause a beat … then take another handoff.
I could almost hear him say, “Please, sir, may I have another?” after each carry.
He had five carries of 10 or more yards. But many of his runs were chunk runs — 8 yards here, 6 here, 3 there, 5 here. He was the workhorse his team needed down the stretch, especially once his partner-in-crime Alex Clark had to leave the game with a right ankle injury at the start of the fourth quarter.
“He’s a big, physical back,” Davis said. “He’s a very good football player. He’s gonna be getting a lot of playing time on Saturdays. He’d have traded all those yards for a win, and that’s the great thing about Roshard.”
Feeling for Olson. Nobody ever wants to lose a game on a kick, whether it’s a point-after or a field goal. Gardens sophomore kicker Stephen Olson appeared to slip as he swung his leg down for his point-after attempt with five minutes to play, pushing his kick wide right. In a game decided by one point, it was a devastating miscue.
Davis was quick to point out the other mistakes his team made that put the Gators in a hole in the first place. Beyond that, Dickmann added his own thoughts.
“They played a great game,” Dickmann said. “We’ve lost a game by missing an extra point so I know how they feel. Kickers don’t lose games for you; they win them for you. Offense and defense wins and loses games. For a great game to come to that, because it was a heckuva game, is really tough. I’m sure we’ll see them again. That’s a great team with a ton of class, from the coaching staff on down.”
The numbers game. Some serious stats from Friday’s game to put out there, so let’s list ’em …
Ridge converted 19 first downs, running for 341 yards on 44 carries. The Hawks only punted three times. They were 5-for-10 on third downs.
Gardens pumped out 21 first downs, with 243 yards rushing on 51 carries. The Gators punted three times, too. They were 7-of-12 on third downs.
How about penalties? I heard some complaints about the officiating tonight. I didn’t have a good enough vantage point from my spot on the sidelines to really argue any calls. Gardens committed eight penalties for 70 yards and Ridge committed seven for 70.
I will say that several critical plays were impacted by penalties. Gardens lost a touchdown, a key first down and committed a few on defense that kept Ridge’s drives going. Ridge lost a huge first down of its own from a holding call, and could’ve sealed the game on another play in the fourth quarter if a personal foul didn’t push the Hawks back 15 yards on third down.