Posted: 4:00 pm Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Playoff Primer 2011: Hot Seminole Ridge hosts fast Palm Beach Central 

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.

No, this isn’t deja vu. No, it’s not the Twilight Zone. Yes, it feels like I’m repeating myself. Why? It’s another rematch in the Class 8A playoffs, just like Gardens at Park Vista (click for preview). Unlike that game, though, Seminole Ridge and Palm Beach Central’s first meeting had a winner and a loser. Ridge struggled at first, but outlasted Central 21-6 in the season opener for both teams.

More than two months later, both teams are where we thought they’d be: in the playoffs. And what a treat this game could be. Ridge is smoking hot right now. The Hawks have won seven in a row after starting 1-2. They were angry after back-to-back losses to Park Vista and then Dwyer, both games they felt they should’ve won. Since then, only one team has come close to Ridge, which has won by an average of 34.6 points over its streak.

This year’s Central team has been far more consistent than its previous editions, and that’s why the Broncos reached the playoffs for the first time in their young history. Park Vista coach Brian Dodds, whose team beat Central 21-14 in October, said Central was the most athletically talented team in the area. The Broncos have tons of talent, but can they stay disciplined enough to beat a young-but-experienced Seminole Ridge?

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

BY THE NUMBERS

PALM BEACH CENTRAL
Record: 7-3.
How they qualified: Runner-up in District 10-8A.
Average points per game: 28.7.
Average points allowed per game: 19.2.
Offensive yardage totals: 187.1 rush, 104.4 pass per game.
Offensive stars: RB Ray Wilson (811 rushing yards, 8 TDs), WR Angelo Jean-Louis (296 receiving yards, 7 TDs), OL KC McDermott.
Defensive stars: DE Gabe Terry, CB Jhavon Williams.
Common opponents with Seminole Ridge: There were seven. Central was 5-2 against those opponents; Ridge was 6-1.

SEMINOLE RIDGE
Record: 8-2.
How they qualified: Winner of District 9-8A.
Average points per game: 37.2.
Average points allowed per game: 12.8.
Offensive yardage totals: 213.3 rush, 102.4 pass per game.
Offensive stars: RB Gary Holmes (1,250 rushing yards, 22 TDs), QB Antwan Washington (55% completion rate, 13 TDs, 2 INT), WR Darian Williams (548 receiving yards, 5 TDs).
Defensive stars: DL Kyle Shortridge, DE Jason Shepherd, DB Mike Almonte
Common opponents with Palm Beach Central: There were seven. Ridge was 6-1 vs. those opponents; Central was 5-2.

The first game was ugly. Plain and simple. I was at that game. Watched it. Didn’t enjoy it. Neither coach did. Just wasn’t pretty. But we did catch a glimpse of how Ridge might try to defend Central on Friday.

Seminole Ridge kept a lid on the big pass play. The Hawks did everything in their power to keep Angelo Jean-Louis and EJ Sardinha out of the stat sheet, and it worked. Neither had a catch. Those are Division I talents, and they didn’t have a catch. Jean-Louis had two gimmick runs for 4 yards. Instead, when they did pass, the Broncos sucked in Ridge’s aggressive edge rush and flipped screens and swings to Tommy McDonald and Ray Wilson. Those two had three catches for 60 yards. But Ridge’s attack was relentless, forcing 11 incompletions and two turnovers. Eventually the offense (more particularly Gary Holmes) did enough to get the 21-6 win.

Here’s my theory on beating Ridge: Shooting the gaps and sealing the edges, gang-tackling Holmes and forcing the Hawks into passing situations. The passing game is designed to keep the secondary honest, not win games. Antwan Washington completed 5-of-12 passes in that first matchup, but the speed of Jean-Louis and Jhavon Williams at corner clearly bothered the Hawks’ passing attack, and the deep threat never felt dangerous.

That’s far easier said than done. Just ask the eight teams that Ridge beat this year.

Central’s offense has multiple prongs in its attack. Wilson is the main runner, but Lloyd Howard and Tommy McDonald are undersized speed demons with breakaway ability. Jean-Louis is an absolute man of an athlete. Sardinha has good hands and runs smart routes. Brock Bukowski had to run a lot in the first meeting. He’s a smart runner when the pocket collapses, but Ridge will be happy if Bukowski is tucking and running instead of delivering strikes down field.

Stopping Central is a challenge, just like stopping Ridge. To halt the Broncos, big plays have to be taken off the table. In their win over Gardens, the Broncos had a kick return and two huge passes for touchdowns. They also had a few runs from Tommy McDonald that carved Gardens’ D. I use that example because that’s Central’s only win against a team with record over .500. (In fairness, Central’s three losses are to Ridge, Royal Palm and Park Vista — all very good teams.) And in that game, the big play led to big pay. So, expect mixtures of coverages against Jean-Louis and Sardinha. John I. Leonard tried a similar strategy against Ridge a few weeks ago and struggled, but not before a few shovel passes and screens caught Ridge’s overzealous defense off-guard.

Nobody makes adjustments like Seminole Ridge. Coaching becomes more and more important as the teams with serious talent stay afloat in the playoffs. That could be the deciding factor in what should be a fantastic matchup in Loxahatchee on Friday.