Posted: 4:15 pm Wednesday, November 27th, 2013
By Anthony Chiang
Just three local teams — Dwyer, Palm Beach Gardens and Fort Pierce Central — are left in the FHSAA playoffs, and each one of them will take on a team from another part of the state this week.
So, in order to get to know the opposition this week, we asked each opposing team’s beat writer some questions. Here are their answers.
Steve Gorten from the Sun Sentinel answers our questions about Dwyer’s opponent, Fort Lauderdale-St. Thomas Aquinas:
1. St. Thomas Aquinas has played a difficult schedule, how do you think that will help them entering Friday’s game?
Dwyer coach Jack Daniels says that difficult schedule is why “you’d be foolish to consider us a favorite” and he and his players view themselves as underdogs. The Raiders have two losses, but to teams – Miramar and Deerfield – which combined for a 20-0 record in the regular season. Those games, as well as a game against defending national champ John Curtis Christian (La.) in New Orleans and two matchups against Plantation, ensures the Raiders will be prepared for the enormous challenge that the undefeated Panthers present.
2. What is the main reason for the Raiders’ two losses this season?
St. Thomas’ offense has been inconsistent at times, particularly its passing game, and was in both of those losses. Miramar focused on shutting down the Raiders’ rushing attack and making QB Wade Freebeck beat them with his arm. He didn’t, and when he hasn’t played well, the offense has struggled. A key Friday for St. Thomas will be Freebeck making the right reads and good decisions and getting the ball to playmaking receivers Devante Peete and Corey Holmes. This is as healthy as the team’s receiving corps has been this season.
3. Why don’t they give the ball to running back Madre London more? He is averaging just 10 carries per game as the team’s leading rusher. Should they give it to him more?
In addition to defenses keying on London, St. Thomas has gone with the season-long approach of splitting carries between the senior London and junior Deltron Sands, who St. Thomas coach Rocco Casullo has said reminds him of former St. Thomas running back Giovanni Bernard, now in the NFL. Expect to see junior Johnnie Gaines, who has emerged late in the season and had a strong performance last week, get some carries, too. The Raiders will share the load.
4. St. Thomas Aquinas wins Friday if …
QB Wade Freebeck plays well. Casullo is convinced Friday’s game will come down to “what quarterback makes the least mistakes and what offense takes advantage of their field position.” If Freebeck can connect with Holmes and/or Peete for some big pass plays, it’ll help open up the running game and take some pressure off the Raiders’ defense.
5. St. Thomas Aquinas loses Friday if …
The Raiders can’t get pressure on Dwyer quarterback Daniel Parr. This is the best defensive line the Raiders have had in possibly more than a decade, but they need to pressure Parr or he’ll distribute the ball to the Panthers’ talented playmakers as he’s done all season. The Raiders’ secondary especially needs a strong push up front as it’ll be without its most talented player – cornerback Al Harris Jr., who’s out with a season-ending hamstring injury.
Steve Gorten from the Sun Sentinel answers our questions about Palm Beach Gardens’ opponent, Miramar:
1. The Patriots are giving up just seven points per game this year. Is there any area in Miramar’s defense that Palm Beach Gardens can take advantage of?
It certainly won’t be easy. Miramar’s defense has shut down high-powered passing offenses, such as Flanagan’s, and strong rushing attacks, such as Deerfield Beach’s. It’ll be especially tough to pass on Miramar’s defensive backs, a group that includes Jeffrey Hill, a player Miramar coach Damon Cogdell has nicknamed “Honey Badger” after Tyrann Mathieu. Palm Beach Gardens’ best bet might be to run the ball right at Miramar and try to wear down the Patriots’ defense by moving the chains and keeping them on the field.
2. Is Miramar the best team in Broward County? If so, why?
Yes. We wondered if it was Miramar or Deerfield Beach, but that question was resoundingly answered last week when Miramar thumped Deerfield 43-6. The Patriots, the lone undefeated Broward team left, also beat defending Class 7A state champ St. Thomas Aquinas – on the road – in the regular season. Miramar’s famed “Dark Side” defense, led by middle linebacker Ryan Samuels (nicknamed “Baby Zach Thomas”) has been its trademark, but there’s also plenty of playmakers on offense, including running back Eric Pittman. It’s a balanced team.
3. What are Miramar quarterback Nick Jeanty’s strengths and weaknesses?
In his second season as starter at Miramar, Jeanty has made better decisions, something that plagued him last year. He has kept mistakes to a minimum while managing the offense smoothly. Last week, he started 11 of 15 passing and accounted for all three Miramar touchdowns in the first half as he led the team to scoring drives on four of five possessions. His accuracy, especially on deep passes, could use improvement.
4. Miramar wins Friday if …
The Patriots’ Dark Side defense is close to as dominant as it has been all season. By creating turnovers and advantageous field position, it’s helped set up the offense to regularly be successful.
5. Miramar loses Friday if …
The Patriots commit a rash of turnovers. They didn’t turn the ball over once in last week’s win against Deerfield. If they can avoid mistakes against Palm Beach Gardens, their talent should prevail.
John C. Cotey from the Tampa Bay Times answers our questions about Fort Pierce Central’s opponent, Tampa-Plant:
1. What are Plant’s strengths and weaknesses?
Plant’s strengths are its offensive line, which features Tennessee commitment Ray Raulerson, top 2015 recruit Jake Fruhmorgen (offers from the likes of Auburn, FSU and Ohio State), its offensive diversity and a coaching staff that is regarded as the best in Tampa Bay. Raulerson and Fruhmorgen anchor a unit that has rushed and passed for over 2,000 yards, and last week simply overwhelmed Dr. Phillips on their game-tying drive and touchdown drive in overtime. Plant likes to move the ball around — 20 different players have carries, 16 different players have receptions — and Bob Weiner and his staff are highly regarded for their preparation and ability to make adjustments on the fly.
2. It seems like Plant quarterback Colby Brown really spreads the ball around. How much has Brown progressed since the start of the year?
Brown, an Orlando Olympia transfer in 2012, was able to watch behind starter Aaron Banks last year, but did well in his two starts in relief and carried that over into a successful offseason. This year, he continued to get better at managing games, completing passes to 16 different receivers and throwing touchdowns to 10 of them. He is the fifth different Plant quarterback in the past eight seasons to complete more than 60 percent of his passes while throwing for more than 2,000 yards. While he lacks the physical stature of predecessors Robert Marve, Aaron Murray and Phillip Ely, Brown set a school record with 519 yards in a game this season.
3. Judging by the numbers, Plant’s defense looks like it has been inconsistent this season. What are some holes in the defense that Fort Pierce Central can take advantage of?
Plant has had injuries all season on defense, but still, the numbers are skewed by one game where it allowed 40 points to Bloomingdale, not one of Tampa Bay’s better programs. But the Panthers have had trouble stopping the run this season. Dr. Phillips, Sickles and Sandy Creek, the three best teams they faced this season, all rushed for more than 200 yards. Otherwise, the Panthers are right where they usually seem to be, around 200 points allowed. Against teams that made the playoffs, Plant has allowed an average of 13.4 points, which is lower than its average allowed against everyone else. Plant definitely plays to the level of its competition.
4. Plant will win Friday if …
Brown doesn’t make any big mistakes. He was fortunate last week with some throws, but if he’s on Plant is tough to beat. He also needs to get the ball to Alex Jackson. Plant spreads the ball around, but Jackson has 1,335 all-purpose yards and good things usually happen when he’s got the ball in his hands.
5. Plant will lose Friday if …
the Panthers don’t stop the run. Plant managed to give up 200 or more rushing yards to three teams — Sandy (Ga.) Creek, Sickles and Dr. Phillips. All three were close, including victorious escapes against the latter two.
About the Author
Anthony Chiang began his writing career in Gainesville at the University of Florida’s student-run newspaper. At The Independent Florida Alligator, he covered the school’s golf, volleyball, baseball, and football teams. The Miami native has also written for the Sun Sentinel and MLB.com, following the Tampa Bay Rays.