Posted: 1:44 am Friday, September 7th, 2012

Quick thoughts from John I. Leonard’s 21-16 win over Royal Palm Beach 

By Matt Porter

GREENACRES – Both John I. Leonard and Royal Palm Beach play Seminole Ridge later this season, so Ridge assistant coach Justin Hilliker came to scout both teams. It wasn’t long before he, like many, were talking about Adam Johnson.

“Kevin Anderson’s the best prospect, but he’s the best quarterback,” Hilliker said of John I. Leonard’s senior quarterback.

Anderson, the Boca Raton senior, is the top-rated, top-recruited quarterback prospect in Palm Beach County. He’s a 6-foot-2, 200-pound pocket passer who has given a verbal commitment to Marshall. Johnson is 5-10, 175 and when he gets his first college offer, it probably won’t be to play quarterback.

But make no mistake, Johnson can play at the high school level. He was the story as John I. pulled off a 21-16 home upset of No. 5 Royal Palm. Read the game story here.

Johnson, who threw for 216 yards and a touchdown on 12-of-26 passing, looked like another standout quarterback from recent years, Lake Worth graduate Evan Moore. Johnson, like Moore did, dances around defenders and keeps plays alive. He had 17 carries for 68 yards and two short touchdowns, but his ability to shed the rush and throw downfield is what’s exciting to watch.

“He’s good, man,” said ESPN-760 radio analyst Doug Socha, the former American Heritage coach who now leads the upstart Oxbridge Academy program. “Really good arm. Makes all the throws. He can throw on the run, too.”

The praise for Johnson came from everywhere, but the Lancers as a whole deserve plenty of credit for this one. Here’s an overview:

Air: attacked. A quick glance at last year’s stats may have led you to believe Johnson was slinging irresponsibly. He led the county in attempts last season (290) but completed just 136 (46.9 percent) for 1,771 yards. He had 16 touchdowns but 11 interceptions.

While Johnson’s completion rate Thursday (46 percent) was on-pace with last year, it’s hard to fault him entirely.

His receivers dropped five passes, including one by sophomore Tavares Martin which we’ll get to in a minute. He had four balls nearly intercepted, and one of those was a forced ball to a receiver at the goal line. Two were strong plays on the ball from Royal Palm Beach cornerback De’Andre Simmons and linebacker Jesse Pourch. The other was overthrown.

Johnson’s arm and mobility allow him to wait for his receivers – 5-10, 185-pound junior Jerry Jones, 5-8, 165-pound junior Kenute Morris and Martin, a 6-2, 170-pound sophomore – to get open. That especially benefitted Martin, who had several chances at redemption, and made good.

Martin dropped three passes on which he was wide-open – including one where he had nothing but 82 yards of grass in front of him – but didn’t stay down for long.

“He was at first, a little bit,” Johnson said. “We talked to him on the sideline. We said, ‘T.J., you’re good, don’t worry about it. Over the summer, he’d drop some balls and get mad. As a sophomore, he doesn’t know yet. He hasn’t experienced that. But you let him get that confidence, and he just takes off. That dude’s fast.”

With 4:25 left in the third quarter, Martin got behind the defense and made a back-shoulder catch on a perfectly lofted pass from Johnson. That made it 21-10. Martin finished with five catches for 115 yards.

“He’s young, so he’s not going to be perfect,” John I. Leonard acting coach Lou Gaudio said. “He’s going to have the drops. What impresses me is he comes back. He keeps improving. That’s all we ask.”

Another offensive performer who stood out: 6-1, 190-pound junior running back Winsen Louis Juste, who had 15 carries for 50 yards and had several strong blocks for Johnson.

Size doesn’t matter, flags do: John I. Leonard has no offensive skill players over 190 pounds and just one offensive lineman over 5-10. Meanwhile, Royal Palm’s linemen include 6-5, 325-pound tackle Craig Smith and 6-0, 295-pound guard Josh Wilson.

Though Leonard’s game wasn’t clean – I counted seven holding penalties, and 11 flags for 115 yards in total – the small guys did fine.

“People think Palm Beach County’s so big, but there’s so many high schools, so talent gets dispersed by boundaries,” Gaudio said. “Like a lot of schools are, we’re a little light on linemen. That’s where mental toughness comes in.”

“They’re small, but they’ve got heart, man,” Johnson said.

There wasn’t a penalty until the Lancers jumped offside with 8:25 left in the first half, but they came steadily after. They committed a holding call a play later, and couldn’t escape from first-and-22 from their own 25.

Down 10-7, the Lancers took over with 1:30 left in the half. Marching from their own 27, they made it first-and-goal at the Royal Palm 6, but a holding call on third-and-goal led to a missed 38-yard field goal try as the half expired.

Johnson’s third-quarter TD pass to Martin erased one of the holding calls, which made it third-and-28 from the 43.

Royal Palm, which committed eight penalties for 74 yards, had a few untimely ones. With 5:59 left, a personal foul and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty helped bring the Lancers from their own 10 to the Royal Palm 46. Though the drive stalled, it helped kill the clock and protect John I.’s 21-16 lead.

John I.’s line lost its nerve at times. But the Lancers don’t scrap after the whistle, like some of the wilder teams in the area. Gaudio said he would rather there be no penalties at all but he could live with the ones his team committed.

“They’re running down, they want to make a play, the guy turns and hits his guy in the back … it happens,” Gaudio said. “The thing about this team, what you don’t see is flagrant penalties. What you see are little mental lapses, where they’re coming up, they should let up but they don’t, and they realize [their mistake] later.

“If they can sustain their blocks – legally – and make a play, we’ll do well.”

What about Royal Palm? First: Apologies to Wildcats fans who want to know more about their team, but I couldn’t catch head coach Willie Bueno or players after the game. A 45-minute lightning delay and an early deadline meant I had to file a story five minutes after the game ended. By the time I got quotes from the winning team, Royal Palm had left. My calls weren’t returned. Sorry, guys.

From what I saw, it was an off-night for Royal Palm, just like it was a year ago this week, when John I. Leonard grabbed a 49-26 win on the road.

The Wildcats came into that game a slight favorite and this game a sumo-heavy favorite, even though John I. had outscored Martin County and Jupiter 76-0 in its kickoff classic and season-opener.

Royal Palm’s coaching staff was better, we said. They were more organized, they practiced harder, we thought. Despite not playing a Week 1 game because of Tropical Storm Isaac, their defense was potentially dominant. I expected the front seven and the secondary to have Adam Johnson on lock. I saw them collect six sacks in the preseason against Glades Central.

What we didn’t expect was Johnson’s offensive line to hold off Royal Palm’s front seven, and Johnson’s receivers to get open more often than not. Plus, offensively, Wildcats were an up-and-down show until an out-of-nowhere drive in the final minutes that nearly won them the ballgame.

Quarterback Ant McGrew was 5-of-10 for 73 yards until 4:20 left in the ballgame, when the Wildcats took over at their 22.

He hit Zeke Edmonds and JoJo Williams on 8- and 10-yard outs to get to the 45. McGrew shimmied his way ahead for 7, then snapped off a 5-yard pass to Williams. Sophomore Demarcus Holloway (13 carries, 45 yards) got ahead for five. Then McGrew cut outside for 7.

Everything worked, and John I.’s defense looked like it was caving. With 1:24 left, McGrew found senior JoJo Williams for a 12-yard gain.

“I was praying, to be honest with you,” Johnson said.

On first-and-goal, John I. linebacker Edens Merius sacked McGrew for a loss of 5. Holloway got two, McGrew got zero, and his final pass was a fade that went over Williams’ head in the end zone. Though the drive fell short – credit John I.’s defense for that – the Wildcats looked good taking advantage of the underneath routes given them. John I.’s undersized, mobile defense did enough to disrupt Royal Palm’s schemes.

McGrew was most of the offense, completing 11-of-16 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown. He also carried the ball 17 times for 78 yards, rushing for a 24-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter. However, the two-point conversion snap was dropped, leaving it a five-point ballgame.

The Wildcats’ defense was good, but couldn’t get the pressure it probably believed it could. Losing safety Jimmy Moreland and cornerback Simmons to leg cramps on Leonard’s third-quarter touchdown drive did not help matters.

Monroe update: John I. Leonard Athletic Director Scott Siegel used a uniquely harrowing analogy to describe the condition of head coach Wayne Monroe’s elbow. “It looked like the bottom of a cereal box, with everything all crushed up,” Siegel said.

Yeesh.

Monroe, shattered his elbow in an on-campus accident Aug. 24 and has not coached since, had elbow replacement surgery Thursday and stayed overnight at an area hospital. He has been in regular communication with coaches.

“I talked to him today,” Gaudio said. “He’s doing well. We talked about strategy. He can’t talk about anything but football. We dedicated this win to him.”

It’s unknown when Monroe will coach again, but there’s a good chance he was listening to the game on ESPN-760′s radio broadcast and smiling.