DELRAY BEACH - The Thursday night (Nov. 8) showdown between No. 3 American Heritage-Delray and No. 16 Dwyer certainly lived up to its hype.
Billed as Palm Beach County's 'Game of the Year,' American Heritage's 13-7 home win over Dwyer literally came down to the final seconds.
With just five seconds left in the game, Panthers sophomore QB Daniel Parr threw a Hail Mary pass on a fourth down play from the Stallion 40-yard line. It was picked off by American Heritage senior DB Xavier Swinton, who caught Parr's Hail Mary pass in the end zone to seal the Stallions' victory.
"I was thinking I could get a pass deflection," Swinton said. "It was nice to be in position to make that play. I'm glad I got to help my team get the W."
The American Heritage-Dwyer game was truly a defensive one from the outset, as neither team reached the end zone until Panthers junior QB Rob Nittolo lost a fumble at their own 1-yard line with 11:35 left in the third quarter.
Up 3-0 after halftime, Stallions senior LB Evan Harvey, who played for Dwyer last season, sacked Nittolo for a 14-yard loss on a second-and-15 play from the Panthers 15-yard line. Harvey forced the fumble on the game-changing play and sophomore LB Rondarian Bell scooped up the ball to reach the end zone on a 1-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.
At that point, American Heritage-Delray (10-0 overall record) was up 10-0 and never looked back the rest of the way.
"It's great to have others stepping up tonight," Stallions head coach Stacy Sizemore said. "Our players wanted to get us an undefeated regular season. We made the plays we needed to. We got the job done."
Dwyer's only score came with 7:52 left in the third quarter, when Parr (5-of-5 passing, 61 yards, TD on his first series at QB) connected on a 3-yard scoring pass to junior WR Ezra Saffold to cut American Heritage's lead to 10-7.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, their inconsistency on offense in several critical moments hurt them in the second half.
With 6:16 left in the game, Panthers senior DE Ted Taylor recovered a Stallions fumble at their own 47-yard line and advanced the ball 30 yards to the Heritage 23.
But Dwyer (8-2 overall record) failed to gain a first down on its ensuing possession and turned the ball over on downs with 4:51 left.
Nonetheless, the Panthers got the ball back again at the 3:12 mark, thanks to Dwyer's defense forcing a three-and-out by American Heritage.
From their 35-yard line, Dwyer gained two first downs on the game's final drive, including Parr's 23-yard pass to junior WR Clint Stephens on a fourth-and-10 play that allowed the Panthers to advance to the Stallions 42 with 1:21 left.
In the end, the Panthers simply couldn't capitalize on their opportunities to snatch the game away from the Stallions.
"I thought we had a shot," Dwyer head coach Jack Daniels said. "We just made some critical mistakes that cost us the game tonight."
American Heritage senior K Greg Joseph proved to be a key contributor in the win, as he connected on field goals of 27 and 35 yards, respectively. Meanwhile, Stallions senior RB Greg Bryant had 18 carries for 69 yards.
With the win, American Heritage-Delray has extended its winning streak to 21 games, as its last official loss came in Week 3 of their 2011 season against Glades Central.
The Stallions, who face Chaminade-Madonna at home in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs on Nov. 16, completed their first undefeated regular season in school history.
As for the Panthers, who play on the road against Northeast in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs next Friday night, they have now gone 2-2 since starting the season at 6-0.