Posted: 2:40 am Friday, October 19th, 2012
By Matt Porter
I’ve seen somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 high school football games since joining The Post in 2009. There have been some great ones. I can’t remember one quite like the one that happened on Thursday, when Atlantic pulled off a 28-12 upset of No. 2 Dwyer.
I’m still trying to process this one, I admit. On one hand, it makes complete sense: Atlantic, being so talented, just needed to put it together, and Dwyer has injury problems on its lines and an offense that struggles. On the other hand, Dwyer’s defense has been lock-down. They don’t get outcoached. They don’t get outworked, especially in big games.
Thursday’s was a big game, precisely the type we believe Dwyer wins and Atlantic doesn’t. And Dwyer got outplayed, outworked and outcoached by an Atlantic team that was sick of hearing how they always come up short.
Before going further, click here for my game story. It features Atlantic senior Brisly Estime (two touchdowns) and the Eagles’ dominant defense, co-starring a Dwyer offense that couldn’t get it done. (Also, click here for a gallery of photos from The Post’s Allen Eyestone.)
Those were the main themes. Let’s get to the finer points:
Atlantic finally puts it together. Was that the real Atlantic we just saw? The team that has as much talent as any in the 561 area code? As of right now, yeah.
Win or lose, Atlantic coach Chris Bean is very spiritual. In this case, he attributed his team’s win to higher forces and the players’ mental state rather than Xs and Os. That’s in stark contrast to Dwyer’s blunt, up-front Jack Daniels, who said his team got outcoached and outplayed.
“There’s a power that’s bigger than us,” Bean said. “Yesterday, when I opened up, I gave them some secrets. I let them know what I’m all about.”
If you’re a Bean disciple, you might say the Eagles found it within themselves to stay focused for four quarters and play team ball. If you’re of the Daniels school of thought, Atlantic’s defense put together a dominant effort, especially up front against a weakened Dwyer offensive line, and took full advantage of Dwyer’s inability to hit on any big passing plays.
But the result speaks to what Atlantic needed to do: show up for a big game. This was the biggest game they’d played, with one more District 13-7A loss likely keeping them on the outside looking in at Dwyer and Royal Palm Beach, who entered this week unbeaten in the district. Now we’re looking at Atlantic and Dwyer with a district loss each, and a huge Royal Palm-Atlantic game in Delray Beach next Friday. If Atlantic has another game like what we just saw, we’ll know we really are seeing the real Atlantic.
“I told you from Day One: the problem with us is going to be us,” Bean said. “We’re head cases, at times, as a football team. We had this sense of entitlement. We had all these offers, D-1 this and that. Put all that aside. I don’t believe in that. You’ve got to come out here and earn your stripes. Nobody’s going to give you anything.
“That’s all they were thinking about early in the season. Stats. What I got. ‘Coach, I’m not getting the ball.’ It ruined us. When you think about yourself, bad things happen. That was destroying us.”
Star of the game. One player who deserves plenty of accolades: Atlantic senior Brisly Estime. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound receiver and return man was electric. What more do you want? He had a 65-yard punt return, three catches for 85 yards and a touchdown, and a touchdown-saving tackle (he caught up to Dwyer’s Alonso Smith on a 55-yard gain; Dwyer couldn’t score from the 5). Again, what else would you like to see?
Dwyer falls flat. Dwyer’s defense and special teams didn’t have a great night — they allowed big plays in the passing game, a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown and showed surprising inability to tackle Atlantic’s skilled athletes. Still, overwhelmingly, the offense remains the biggest problem.
“We came out flat and we got outcoached,” Daniels said.
I’m no Madden hero and I am not a football coach. But I’m surprised Dwyer can’t get the ball to their three Ferrari-like receivers — juniors Johnnie Dixon, Clint Stephens and Ezra Saffold — more often. The Panthers were 3-of-21 passing for 32 yards. Both junior Robbie Nittolo and senior Clay Meister threw picks. Atlantic’s secondary is good, shutting down Dixon and covering several downfield chances Dwyer took. Maybe Dwyer should try to dink and dunk more often rather than take deep shots. It’s just surprising when you have as much talent as Dwyer does out wide and in the slot, you can’t get the rock to them.
Case in point: At 8:19 of the second quarter, Dixon returned a kickoff to the Atlantic eight. After a one-yard gain, Atlantic defensive end Todney Evans dropped wildcat QB Clint Stephens for a 12-yard loss. On third-and-goal, Meister threw an interception to Atlantic’s Marcus Gaskin. He tried for a throw between two defenders that just wasn’t there.
Dwyer was 0-for-3 in the red zone, with the other two chances ending with fourth-down completions that were short of the first-down stick.
“They were taking the pass away. We had success running,” Daniels said. “It seemed like we got behind the down marker, with holding penalties or sacks, and then it’s tough. We’re not good at throwing the ball right now, anyway.”
Dwyer’s Smith, a junior, was the Panthers’ bright spot, breaking touchdown runs of 20 and 43 yards (the latter one play after Tevin Spells’ touchdown put Atlantic up 28-6 in the third quarter) on his way to 187 yards. It’s just hard when one guy is 90 percent of your offensive yardage, and almost shocking when you have that much talent around him.
It wasn’t a Dwyer squad at full speed. Starting offensive tackle Frank Debrowski is out with a separated shoulder. Senior guard Onterio Rouse, who won his FHSAA appeal of the ruling in the Michael Dudeck summer school scandal, was playing in his second game of the season. Several linemen were playing two ways. Valued senior linebacker Anthony Williams was out with a thigh contusion. Coaches said players have been missing practices due to injuries, then suiting up for games and looking sluggish.
what was more surprising: the lack of fight readily apparent on the Dwyer sideline. The crowd was out of it early — I don’t know if the two extended lightning delays sapped their energy, but they weren’t a help to the home team — and all but a few Panthers looked beaten by the end.
“We’re going to learn from it,” Daniels said. “This will be a turning point in our season. We’ll see how they respond.”
Atlantic’s defense is for real. For all we’ve talked about Dwyer’s defensive line, with seniors Malik Brown and Ted Taylor and junior Mark Kelly, Atlantic’s got the better of them on Thursday. Miami commit Keith Bryant was unblockable at defensive tackle, and let Dwyer know about it with his loud crowing after big plays. Defensive end Todney Evans was in the backfield on constantly, registering a QB hit, a sack and several pressures. Dwyer’s banged-up offensive line couldn’t handle it, making Smith’s effort all the more impressive. Dwyer coaches were seen holding an extra-long meeting with their offensive linemen long after the main postgame huddle had broken.
The secondary did a strong job on Dixon, but most of Dwyer’s incompletions came from overthrows. Marcus Gaskin, who was in a sling on the sideline by the end of the game, had the biggest pick.
Good reviews for Atlantic’s offense. When we discussed Atlantic’s inability to put things together, we were casting the harshest light on the offense, which has receivers like 6-5 junior Adly Enoicy and dynamic playmakers like Estime to go along with solid running back Tevin Spells and others. The Eagles are still looking for a full-time QB, but that search seems to be nearing its end.
Owens, who before the end of the first half had two touchdowns mixed into a string of six straight completions, looked confident. He finished 7-of-15 for 129 yards and two touchdowns, despite splitting the time about 75-25 with senior Jay Mentecky (0-for-1, sacked twice for -16 yards).
The Eagles would like to put up more than 121 rushing yards on 22 carries. Spells’ 75-yard touchdown run helped him finish with 97 yards and a score on eight touches. Owens broke a 35-yard run, but was sacked for a nine-yard loss and ended up with 36 net yards.
What’s next? For Dwyer, plenty of issues to sort out this week before a district game next Friday at Lake Worth. Following that, the Panthers have a must-win district game against Royal Palm and an already hyped road game against top-ranked American Heritage. They need to be healthy and drastically different than what we saw tonight to win both.
Atlantic must prove itself all over again next week, with a chance to claim the top spot in District 13-7A by beating Royal Palm. Last year, Atlantic players and coaches stood stunned in the pouring rain as Royal Palm celebrated a 13-0 win on its home field. The game is in Delray this year, and the Eagles can show everyone they’ve had it in them all along.
“We owe them,” an Atlantic assistant coach said of Royal Palm.
If the Eagles pull off another upset next week, perhaps all the naysayers will owe them an apology.
(because the game ended too late for this to make the paper, here’s the box score.)
A – Brisly Estime 65 punt return (Nick Privitera kick)
D – Alonso Smith 20 run (kick failed)
A – Estime 24 pass from Thomas Owens (Privitera kick)
A – Adly Enoicy 14 pass from Owens (Privitera kick)
A – Tevin Spells 75 run (Privitera kick)
D – Smith 43 run (rush failed)
ATLANTIC (4-2, 2-1 District 13-7A)
Passing: comp/att: 7/16
Passing: yards/TDs: 129/2
Rushing: att/yds: /121
Receiving: no./yds: 7/129
Interceptions thrown: 0
First downs: 10
Punts: no./yds: 7/129
Fumbles: total/lost: 1/0
RUSH: Tevin Spells 8/97, TD … Thomas Owens 7/36 … David Knowles 4/6 … Marcus Gaskin 1/-2 … Jay Mentecky 2/-16
PASS: Owens 7-15, 129, 2 TD, 0 INT … Mentecky 0-1.
REC: Brisly Estime 3/85, TD … Adly Enoicy 3/47, TD … Wendell Robinson 1/-2
DWYER (6-1, 3-1 District 13-7A)
Passing: comp/att: 3/21
Passing: yards/TDs: 32/0
Rushing: att/yds: 35/187
Receiving: no./yds: 3/32
Interceptions thrown: 2
First downs: 6
Punts: no./yds: 4/104
Fumbles: total/lost: 2/0
RUSH: Alonso Smith 18/187, 2 TD … Robbie Nittolo 6/21 … Cortney Lowery 2/0 … Gerald Hearns 1/0 … Clay Meister 5/-4 … Clint Stephens 3/-17.
PASS: Nittolo 2-14, 30, INT … Meister 1-7, 2, INT
REC: Bobby Moss 1/17 … Stephens 1/13 … Ezra Saffold 1/2.
Update (Nov. 19, 12:44 p.m.): Atlantic senior linebacker Bruce Thomas and his brother Brach, a sophomore defensive back, were involved in a minor car accident early Friday morning. According to an Atlantic source, both students were not injured. No further details were immediately available … Gaskin, who left the game with a shoulder injury, reported soreness Friday morning but said the shoulder was not separated. His status for this Friday’s game against Royal Palm Beach is unclear.