Posted: 8:29 pm Monday, November 14th, 2011

Playoff Primer 2011: Park Vista, Palm Beach Gardens prepare for rematch 

By Jeff Greer

There are 16 playoff games on Friday involving teams from our area. In the buildup to the games, we’ll break down every matchup.

Park Vista enters the 2011 postseason on a high note: This year’s Cobras were the first team in school history to finish undefeated. But Park Vista was 9-0 with 10 games on the schedule. The 10th game — against Palm Beach Gardens — was suspended due to a violent storm that flooded Park Vista’s field, and it was tied 16-all.

Palm Beach Gardens (7-2) feels pretty good about the rematch at Park Vista. Why? Gardens’ D had Vista in a third-and-long situation deep in its own territory, with enough time for a two-minute drill if the Gators got the stop. But the weather had other plans. So Week 9′s Game of the Week is Game of the Week all over again. This time: There has to be a winner.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. General admission is $8; reserved seating is $9.

BY THE NUMBERS

PALM BEACH GARDENS
Record: 7-2.
How they qualified: Runner-up in District 9-8A.
Average points per game: 36.9.
Average points allowed per game: 15.6.
Offensive yardage totals: 294.1 rush, 105.5 pass per game.
Offensive stars: RB Roshard Burney (1,708 rushing yards, 17 TD), RB Alex Clark (709 rushing yards, 11 TD), WR Frank Brown (734 receiving yards, 9 TD), OT Avery Young.
Defensive stars: DE Peter Sylvain, DE Dakwon De Polo, DL Anthony Hicks, LB Korey Wells.
Common opponents with Park Vista: There were eight. Gardens was 6-2 vs. those opponents; Vista was 8-0.

PARK VISTA
Record: 9-0
How they qualified: Winner of District 10-8A.
Average points per game: 29.4.
Average points allowed per game: 10.1.
Offensive yardage totals: 197.6 rush, 93.7 pass per game.
Offensive stars: QB Qwad Martin (47% completion rate, 19 TD, 7 INT, 680 rushing yards, 11 TD), ATH Lekraig Bens (382 rushing yards, 4 TD), ATH Adrian Cerrato (362 rushing yards, 4 TD, 151 receiving yards).
Defensive stars: CB Tim Haynes, ATH Shane Bussey
Common opponents with Palm Beach Gardens: There were eight. Gardens was 6-2 vs. those opponents; Vista was 8-0.

What an exciting rematch. I was at the tie game that was suspended, so let’s break down what I saw …

First, Gardens is the best running team in the county. The Gators have a big ol’ line that moves well, stays on blocks and creates creases for two very talented running backs. With Clark nursing a high ankle sprain over the past few weeks, Burney has become the go-to guy. His big, strong and elusive, and he was a nightmare for Park Vista when they played in October. Burney ran for 231 yards and two touchdowns, and became more and more of a problem as Gardens’ hurry-up offense tired Park Vista out. Now that the playoffs are starting, Clark will start easing his way back into the rotation. He is smaller than Burney, but still very fast and physical. He will truck-stick any defender, anywhere on the field. His ankle injury could impact his elusiveness, but if he’s healthy, Gardens is virtually impossible to stop on offense.

Two teams have beaten Gardens this season: Seminole Ridge and Palm Beach Central. Neither stopped Burney. He got 194 and a touchdown vs. Central, and 184 and two against Ridge. Clark missed the fourth quarter against Ridge after re-aggravating his ankle. But both of those games had the same factor: Gardens’ D couldn’t hold its bend-don’t-break strategy long enough.

So, how can a team beat Gardens? Two ways: Outscore ‘em or outstart ‘em. Or both. Gardens’ biggest weakness is its defense, and particularly its secondary. The Gators know it, too. Central scored twice on long touchdown passes, and if the edges weren’t sealed on run plays, it was awfully tough for Gardens’ defensive backs to slow down Ray Wilson and Tommy McDonald. Against Seminole Ridge, the second level was a running back’s dream, and Gary Holmes gashed the Gators constantly. Receiver Darian Williams was a constant threat in that game, too, scoring a touchdown and getting open a few times down field. He was overthrown on a few occasions that would’ve been touchdowns.

Park Vista has been a very interesting team all season. The Cobras are 9-0. They’ve played basically the same schedule as Gardens. But they haven’t ever felt like a dominant undefeated team.

In their tie with Gardens, the Cobras were clearly aware of Gardens’ weakness in the secondary, passing for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Qwad Martin is the focus of the Vista offense, but Gardens’ front seven did a fantastic job keeping Martin’s QB draws, traps and read options in check. In doing so, though, Martin seemed perfectly content attracting attention and finding his open athletes. Lekraig Bens, Adrian Cerrato, Nelyja Floyd and Steven Jerome all pose serious threats to any defense. Vista used its athletes on end-arounds, play-actions, screens and swings to get the quick guys the ball quickly, but the passes were far more threatening to Gardens’ D than any of the runs.

Long, sustained drives will be a must for Park Vista in this one. Gardens’ hurry-up offense can absolutely gas defenses, and the Cobras are fully aware of that after Burney chewed them up. Instead of trying to stop the Gators, it’s better to keep their offense off the field and just outscore them. Vista did a good job of staying on the field and containing Gardens’ big-play passing attack, instead forcing Burney to carry the ball 33 times and grind out possessions down field.

Obviously these two are incredibly well-matched, and it may come down to whichever weapon makes the biggest impact: Burney or Martin. If Clark is healthy, Gardens will be very tough to stop on offense. If Martin has the same amount of time he had to throw in the last game, Vista will get some points through the air.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t thunder-and-lightning all night this Friday like it did the last time.