Posted: 2:04 am Saturday, September 1st, 2012
By Jeff Greer
PALM BEACH GARDENS — Dwyer got its first win in program history against Glades Central on Friday night, but all I could think about was Central’s recent struggles. I started wondering: Is it time to panic at Glades Central?
First, let’s examine some stats necessary to grasp what’s happening. Glades Central has lost four games in a row dating back to last fall’s playoff loss to Miami Norland, including three at home. The Raiders, in their three games this season (spring, kickoff classic, Friday night), have scored 18 points. Their offensive line is in shambles. And with that, their passing and rushing options struggle.
The Raiders graduated four starting offensive linemen from last year’s team, which was undefeated before that Norland game. There are two seniors on this line, but neither played much last fall. The rest are underclassmen. Dwyer had seven sacks and kept Glades Central to negative-18 yards rushing. There was also a blocked field goal.
The negatives? Well, if running back Aaron Baker, who sprained his right ankle in the first half and didn’t return, can’t get any running lanes, it’s tough to imagine him doing his bowl-over-a-D-back-on-the-way-to-the-end-zone routine. And if Giovanni Lugo doesn’t have any time to step into his field-goal attempts, Glades Central’s not-a-secret-anymore scoring weapon is neutralized. Poor quarterback TJ Abrams had no time all night, though when he did, he found some good rhythm.
The positives? Dwyer’s defensive line is one of the best in the state, so Glades Central, which really struggled last week with Royal Palm Beach’s blitzing and pass rushing, stuck to a quicker release. Abrams threw tons of screens and quick slants to offset Dwyer’s rush, and Yvesner Ferdinand, Ronquavion Tarver and Antwan Washington are all good receiving options for Central. Ferdinand had four catches for 94 yards and Central’s only touchdown. Tarver oozes potential, and Washington seemed open all game.
So, is it time to panic? Not yet. Not with a very winnable district — I’d be shocked (SHOCKED) if Glades Central didn’t run the table in District 14-5A. The Raiders will make the playoffs. Will they go very far? Who knows? That’s up to the offensive line at this point. But Glades Central will be OK by most standards. The question is, is that good enough for Belle Glade’s standards?
“We’re young, but have to get better,” Glades Central coach Roosevelt Blackmon said. “We just have to get better.”
Dwyer’s QB battle. Clay Meister started and played most of the game. That surely settles the quarterback debate, right? Well … not exactly. Meister was serviceable, throwing for 83 yards and a touchdown. And he ran for two. But he missed Ezra Saffold twice up the seam when Saffold would’ve easily scored. Those touch throws make good teams hard to beat, but missing them keeps games close. Dwyer could’ve put the game away with those throws, but Glades Central hung around for a lot longer than it should have.
In all, Meister was 6-of-14 with that TD and a pick. His interception was bad, but basically a punt (and really the only time we saw Will Likely for Glades Central — more on that later).
Then junior Rob Nittolo complicated things. His only pass of the night was a 38-yard touchdown to Saffold. Now, the pass was underthrown and deflected, yes, requiring Saffold to make a sprawling grab as he flew into the end zone, but it was still a touchdown. And in the stat book tomorrow, Nittolo has a perfect quarterback rating.
“(Meister) did some good things; he missed some throws, too,” Dwyer coach Jack Daniels said. “We’ll evaluate it.”
Saffold’s rising star. I’ve mentioned it everywhere I can — Ezra Saffold is Daniels’ new favorite toy, and he’s going to have a huge year. Like, if you and I were in a fantasy league, I’d pick him and think I was this year’s that guy, the guy who gets all the sleepers and wins big.
Saffold missed last week with a separated shoulder, which was a shame to not see him against Miami Central’s video-game-good secondary. He showed up tonight, with 90 yards and two touchdowns. He has breakaway speed and good hands (and a cool name). And he also plays in the slot, with surefire BCS prospects Johnnie Dixon and Clint Stephens at X and Z receiver, which makes him even more dangerous.
“Ezra is this year’s Will Likely,” Daniels said after the game, forever a compliment in Palm Beach County football.
Where’s Will? Which brings me to my final point of conversation tonight, because I don’t want to talk about the game’s 34 penalties, four turnovers and three-plus hours of real time. Will Likely is, in my opinion, the best all-around football player in the area. He might be the most versatile athlete I’ve ever seen play football. His soaring, fingertips interception in the fourth quarter showed what he can do. But the rest of the game was a tease.
Dwyer literally planned its entire defense around him after Likely torched the Panthers for two deep catches last fall in Glades Central’s 24-10 win on national television. (I know, I know, Dwyer fans are like, “Really? You just had to mention it, didn’t you?” Look, I’m still grumpy I didn’t take advantage of the half-off hot dogs and hamburgers in the second half, OK? Cut me some slack.)
“You have to take (Likely) out of the game entirely,” Daniels said. “We wanted to limit his touches altogether.”
Glades Central tried to get Likely in the backfield, giving him three carries, including a misdirection toss play on a critical four-and-1 near midfield in the second half. Alas, the offensive line wasn’t much help — he ran for negative-4 yards. He had two catches for 11 yards.
On one punt return in the first half, Likely scooped up a bounding ball, danced left, then right. He lost two defenders. He was hit by three more, spun out of it, and banked right to the sideline, where he averted two more tacklers. Any more space to run, and he’d have scored. He settled for one of those 9-yard punt returns that felt like it was way more, even if all that effort hardly moved the ball upfield.
But that’s what he can do. Likely can turn nothing into something, crevices into canyons, bottled necks to breakouts. Unfortunately for Blackmon, Likely and everyone else in Belle Glade, it’s not a secret anymore. And he doesn’t have guys like Jaime Wilson to take weight off his shoulders like he did last year.
“With anything, you have to have more than one weapon,” Blackmon said. “Last year I had more weapons.”
And that’s what makes Glades Central so interesting: Every year Blackmon, or whoever the coach at Central is at the time, could look at his roster and feel like Will Smith in Men in Black when he first sees the entire arsenal that Tommy Lee Jones and company get to work with. It’s usually an embarrassment of riches, or in this case, speed and elusiveness and hands and strength. But it’s just not there this fall on this team’s roster, and that’s something that will keep the Raiders and their young group from fully satisfying the win-hungry folks in Belle Glade, at least in the way they want the most.
So, is it panic time? Maybe, but only if your expectations were too high to begin with.