Expert Analysis: Around the State - Week One

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Northwest Florida
By Mike Singer
Week 1 brought out many surprises and mild upsets in the Florida Panhandle. The biggest surprise might have been Panama City Mosley win over 7A Tallahassee Leon in double overtime. Leon, with many D1 recruits, led by Auburn commit D'Anfernee McGriff, could not get it done against a scrappy Mosley squad.
"This might be the year" is a common theme around Crestview as they seek to make the playoffs for the first time in quite a while. However, after Milton ran right through, around and over them, Crestview finds itself just looking for its first win of the 2014 after falling to the Milton Panthers 28-14. Milton, behind Shemar Henderson's 155-yard, three-touchdown performance, the Panthers rushed for 310 yards on 49 carries, adding 33 more through the air. Two bright spots for Crestview was Pensacola High School's transfer Marcus Mobley who rushed for 59 yards on 13 carries and 30 more receiving and returning starting quarterback Corey Armstrong had 315 yards in total offense - 109 of those on the ground.
Niceville, after being humbled by Clay-Chalkville, AL on ESPNU, hosted an under-matched Rutherford team. Over Niceville's opening three drives, the Eagles ran seven plays and scored three touchdowns. Colby Tuthill to Aaron Willis for a 16 yard TD, Tuthill to 2016 Rivals 250 wide receiver Elijah Stove for a 47 yard score and a 31-yard TD run from Shi'Kim Coward. Over those first 7 plays, Niceville averaged nearly 35 yards per play that continued throughout the first half.
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By Turner Street
For the Raines Vikings, Friday night's 13-7 victory over Ed White brought back confidence to their team, specifically to their defense. They were ravaged by Trinity Christian in their spring game, so coming back and holding White to only 186 total offensive yards (a chunk of it made up by a 74-yard touchdown) was a big positive. It gives confidence to a Raines team who will need it, seeing that their next three opponents are Miami Northwestern, First Coast, and Bolles, with the latter two being away.
For White, the loss is disappointing, but it was going to be a tough test facing the notoriously sturdy Raines defense. The Commanders should be happy, though, with Taylor Thomas' 74-yard touchdown run. The Utah commit will be huge to their offense this year and is sure to break off many more long runs this season.
Most of the games in the Jacksonville area turned out as expected on Friday. However, the Bartram Trail Bears gave the Bishop Kenny Crusaders a run for their money that no one saw coming. The Bears had been handled by Flagler Palm Coast in their spring game and then absolutely demolished by the Mandarin Mustangs in their preseason game, so it appeared as if the long-standing powerhouse Kenny would easily take care of the Bears. This was not the case. Even though they only scored in the first half, Bartram took Kenny into overtime and pressed them for all they had. Head Coach Darrell Sutherland has to be pleased as the Bears can take the positives out of this result into next week's match up against another local powerhouse, Fleming Island.
The game that I am most excited for this week is First Coast at Fletcher. First Coast is loaded with talent, having four players in the Florida Times-Union Super 11 (only Trinity Christian had more with five). Fourth-year starter and FSU commit De'Andre Johnson has a stellar receiving corps to throw to with Southern Cal commit Tristan Payton, South Carolia commit Jerad Washington, and FSU commit D.J. Matthews, and an offensive line led by senior William Sweet. The notoriously solid Buccaneers defense will be run by South Carolina linebacker commit Sherrod Pittman.
As for Fletcher, new quarterback Augie Debiase, a transfer from Providence, impressed in his regular season debut for the Senators, throwing for 160 yards and four touchdowns. Stud running back Matt Henderson is also back from a terrible leg injury he suffered last season and he looks to be picking up right where he left off, carrying five times for 77 yards and a score last week.
Both teams are coming off dominant performances (Fletcher downing Stanton 54-7, First Coast defeating Ribault 41-6), so they'll be coming in to this match up hot. It will be a huge test for the Fletcher defense and will certainly be a great game.
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Central Florida
By PJ Smith
Let's get it straight quickly - Apopka is still a top six Central Florida team and 8A contender, even after their 28-23 loss to a talented Oak Ridge team. This loss is more a function of Oak Ridge's top end offensive talent, if anything else. Keep in mind, over the past two seasons Apopka is 1-3 in the first two weeks - and 25-1 in week three and beyond. The Blue Darters have made the 8A state title in both of those seasons. While there are areas of concern, including a defensive secondary that allowed two Nyqwan Murray touchdowns in the final four minutes to spoil a 23-14 Apopka lead, this offense will get things clicking and should propel the Darters to a 7 to 9 win regular season. Huge dates on the schedule for Apopka include Plantation American Heritage and an October, 3rd showdown with district rival West Orange, so the Blue Darters will see plenty of tests before an almost-inevitable 8A playoff berth.
Dr. Phillips won 24-13 on Friday night despite a tough Timber Creek offense that utilized running back Jacques Patrick to perfection on Friday night, running the senior 28 times in a primarily wildcat formation. While Dr. Phillips held high-scoring Timber Creek to 13 points, which by all accounts is a success, but Dr. Phillips' offense sputtered at times and that may be a result of an improved Wolves defense. The Panthers got down to the one yard line late in the fourth quarter, which would have put DP in the 30-point range, but this offense has the talent to put 30 up in the first half and that was a surprise to many Central Florida pundits. Overall, Timber Creek had an excellent game plan and ran enough time off of the clock to keep DP's playmakers off the field. In one sentence: Dr. Phillips is among the favorites in 8A, while Timber Creek has improved enough on defense to make a deep (and possibly surprising) playoff run out an 8A Region 1 that includes First Coast, West Orange, Apopka and Lake Mary. They will need to surpass district foes Winter Park, Oviedo and Orlando-University first.
My player of the week is undoubtedly Nyqwan Murray, the Oak Ridge receiver and FSU commit who single handedly took down Central Florida's most dominant program over the last two years in the last four minutes of the game. Murray had over 200 yards receiving and three touchdowns in the Pioneers' win. Other players with huge weeks included Cannon Thomson (Lake Mary, QB), Woody Barrett (West Orange, QB), Daquan Isom (Dr. Phillips, RB), Tucker Israel (Lake Nona, QB) and Ronnie Fountain (Winter Park, DB).
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Tampa Bay
By Mike Singer
Ok, I get it. Plant lost to Lowndes (Ga.). I think a lot of people are overreacting about the loss though. In my opinion, Plant is still very much a top five team in 8A and can challenge Dr. Phillips, First Coast, Apopka, and company to make it to Orlando. There's just no way you can convince me that a Robert Weiner coached team, with all the talent he returned this year, isn't going to rebound. Their defense is stellar and is going to just keep getting better. The same goes for their offense; Rex Culpepper is just in his first season as the Panthers' starting quarterback and was faced with a tough out of state opponent in his first game of the season. Derrick Baity is a solid two-way player and Georgia Tech defense tackle commit Kyle Henderson is a brute. Plant is still a top team in 8A and is still a top three team in Tampa Bay.
The Countryside Cougars knocked off the Lakewood Spartans 25-20 in a mild upset. I recently read an article on Lakewood quarterback Ryan Davis from the Tampa Tribune about how he's never beaten Countryside, and he really, really wanted to knock them off this year. Well, the Cougars slowed down Davis and company enough to get the victory. Countryside has had a really solid program the past decade, and keep plugging along.
There weren't really too many notable games in the Tampa Bay area from week one, but there should be a few good ones this week. Clearwater Central Catholic was just listed as the no. 1 team in 3A in the AP poll over Jacksonville Trinity Catholic, who blew out CCC in the state finals last year. They will take on 3A foe Tampa Catholic and 2016 Rivals250 defensive end Malik Barrow.
I also think that Largo vs East Lake will be a very interesting match up. East Lake, a 7A state semifinalist last year, didn't look great in their kick off classic game against Manatee that I attended. Four-star wide receiver George Campbell is a freak talent, but that offense is really missing 2014 Clemson signee Artavis Scott. Largo isn't getting too much buzz in Pinellas County, but athlete Jonathan Crawford and quarterback Donovan Hale should put on a show on Friday night. I actually have Largo pulling off the upset in this one on the road.
Since this is my website, I have to give a quick shoutout to my alma mater, the Dunedin Falcons. They knocked off Dixie Hollins to win their season opener 45-34. Quarterback Tyler Palermiti, receiver Janiero Crankfield, running back Jordan Williams, athlete Sawyer Keller, and the rest of the Falcon boys can play!
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Southwest Florida
By Carl Bleich and RJ Roan
Naples flexed its muscle in its season-opening 47-6 victory over Dunbar. The Golden Eagles outscored Dunbar 26-0 in the second quarter behind its balanced rushing attack. Carlin Fils-Aimes led Naples with 93 yards rushing and a touchdown on 13 carries. Naples is a well-oiled machine. No surprise here.
The Tigers lost arguably their two best playmakers in seniors Bob Rice and Daniel Cobb. Rice was arrested on Wednesday on battery charges and was in the Lee County Jail as the Tigers gave up 47 unanswered points to Naples. Rice was dismissed from the team prior to the game. Cobb, a Cincinnati verbal commit, broke his foot in practice and will be out at least four more weeks. The losses certainly will hurt Dunbar moving forward this season. -Bleich
Palmetto Ridge surprised me most with the resolve that it showed in its game with Lehigh. The Bears were trailing 27-6 with 9:40 to play and scored 24 unanswered points to shock the Lightning and win 30-27. The Bears seem to have found a running back to replace the graduated Ron Johnson (UConn) in Jaheem Washington. Washington carried the ball 25 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Palmetto Ridge could not match the speed and athleticism of Lehigh but hung around long enough to wear the Lightning down and dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Bears' depth at running back and good offensive line play will allow them to win some games this year. I fully expect the momentum generated in the Lehigh game to carry over to next week's game with Mariner. -Bleich
Immokalee punched about its weight class Friday, knocking off 8A Lake Worth Park Vista 21-13 on Friday. Senior running back Taeler Porter carried the bulk of the load for the Indians, rushing for 102 yards and catching two of quarterback Jacob Lee Gallegos' three touchdown passes. Two-star recruit Wesley Doscol anchored an offensive line that allowed Porter to average six yards per carry, and kept Gallegos upright most of the right. The defense also put in significant work, forcing three fumbles, one of which sealed the win for the Indians. Immokalee's win over an 8A playoff team from last season is a major positive boon for a program that has had to reload at nearly every position due to graduation over the last two years. -Roan
South Florida commit from the class of 2016 MiCario Stanley was Southwest Florida's top performer. The linebacker was part of a Cape Coral unit that held East Lee County to 16 total yards of offense in a 50-13 win. Stanley, along with fellow linebacker Colin Loethen terrorized the opposing offense all night. Stanley alternated between the blitz and dropping into coverage, and even the fear of him shooting through the A-gap seemed to cause issues for East Lee's center-quarterback exchange. Stanley, along with the rest of the starters, only played about 18 minutes of game action, though Stanley did score on a 12-yard interception return in the first quarter. -Roan
Quick SWFL stats: Riverdale transfers Van Edwards and Ryan Pulley combined for 205 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in Island Coast's 36-13 win over Baker...Wilkinson Glesil rushed for 132 yards and three touchdowns in Estero's 54-7 win over Mariner...South Fort Myers quarterback Keith Smith passed for 335 yards and three touchdowns in South's 41-21 win over Riverdale...Barron Collier's Darren Pass had 164 yards rushing and two touchdowns in a 41-0 win over Miami Braddock. -Bleich
The most intriguing game in week two in Southwest Florida will happen in Immokalee as Clewiston travels down 27 to take on the Indians. Clewiston blew out Blanche Ely last week 42-14 and Immokalee topped 8A opponent Park Vista 21-13. Both team's defenses were stout in a muddy matchup last year in Clewiston that the Tigers won 13-12 thanks in large part to some special teams issues by Immokalee. Clewiston was more physical at the point of attack in last year's game and will look to dominate the line of scrimmage again on Friday but Wesley Docsol (6-4, 300) will have something to say about that for Immokalee.
Other Southwest Florida games of note:
Charlotte at Barron Collier: We will learn a lot about the Cougars and new quarterback Jack Bueltel (a transfer from First Baptist) in this matchup against the Tarpons.
South Fort Myers at Dunbar: It will be interesting to see if Dunbar's physical defensive line gives South problems. The Tigers need to pressure South quarterback Keith Smith in this game or they could quickly fall to 0-2 this season.
Cape Coral at Estero: Estero moved the ball at will in its season opener against Mariner and in its preseason loss to Lely. If the Wildcats can do that against Cape Coral, they may have a chance to win this one in a shootout. Estero's undersized defense will definitely be tested in this game. -Bleich
Every team in District 6A-13 is undefeated and every team had an impressive win last weekend. Naples is far and away the best team in this district and should win it with a 4-0 mark in games against Estero, Palmetto Ridge, Barron Collier and Gulf Coast. Finding a runner-up from this district is where things will get interesting. Gulf Coast won its preseason game 62-0 over Miami Coral Park and beat Pembroke Pines Charter 63-6 in its season opener. The Sharks can clearly score. So can Estero as the Wildcats have been impressively offensively thus far this season. Barron Collier may have the best player of the four teams behind Naples in senior running back Darren Pass. Palmetto Ridge has a good running game and good depth on the offensive line. Estero won was the runner-up in this district last year despite losing to both Naples and Gulf Coast as it was tied with Palmetto Ridge at 2-2 in district play but defeated the Bears head-to-head. I would not be surprised at all if a tiebreaker was needed to determine the second state playoff spot from this district because three teams have the same district record. -Bleich
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South Florida
By Naji Tobias
St. Thomas Aquinas victory over American Heritage Plantation shows why they are clearly the best team in Broward County. Many people predicted a blowout, and that's exactly what happened. STA has perhaps the nation's best backfield in Jordan Scarlett and Deltron Sands. That, in addition to a potent passing game and a stout defense, should be enough to catapult the Raiders all the way back to the Class 7A summit for the first time in two years.
As for American Heritage-Plantation, it shows that they have made a lot of progress over the years, but still have a long way to go. In STA's 38-7 win over Heritage, quarterback Torrance Gibson was held to 102 total yards (57 passing; 45 rushing) and a late touchdown pass. It was a stark contrast to what he showed against defending 7A state champion Dwyer in the kickoff classic, when he went off by throwing for six touchdown passes in the ESPN showcase. At the end of the day, AH-Plantation is still the best team in all of Class 5A and will still be the favorite to repeat as state champs.
But one thing's for sure: Heritage is not in the same class as STA. At least not this year. With that said, STA has made a compelling case for being the best team in the state. The Raiders have a bye in Week 2 before they go on the road to face national power Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) in Week 3. By then we should know for sure whether or not STA has emerged as the state's clear-cut No. 1 team. In other words, it's currently a tight race between STA, Miami Central and Booker T. Washington for the top spot. It's too close to call right now. Enough said.
Booker T. Washington and Miami Central winning two out of state games to open the season says what many have known for quite some time now. BTW (defending Class 4A state champions) and Central (defending Class 6A state champs) are the top two teams in the state - and in that order.
What's crazy is that No. 1 BTW and No. 2 Miami Central will be playing against each other in Week 2. The state's best game is going down this Friday night (7:30 kickoff) at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami. If you're in the 305 area, you do not want to miss this epic battle. But before we talk about the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, it must be noted that both team took care of business in their two out-of-state games.
BTW took down national power Oscar Smith (Va.) in a 57-21 rout on national television, but had to grind it out in a 19-7 win over Tucker (Ga.) in Week 1. Meanwhile, Miami Central squeaked by national power Hoover (Ala.) in a 24-21 victory on national television and went toe-to-toe with Stephenson (Ga.) before pulling out a 21-20 win in the end to cap a 305 sweep in the Florida vs. Georgia Border Series.
As a result, both BTW and Central returned home with 2-0 records - and bragging rights over Georgia for at least another year. With all that said, Week 2 will let us all know which team is truly the state's No. 1 team - at least for a week. Last season it was BTW over Central. Will the Rockets turn the tables this time on the Tornadoes? We'll know the answer on Friday night.
South Florida's most surprising team right now has to be Dwyer - in a bad way. Not many were shocked that the defending Class 7A state champions were outclassed and worn down by defending 5A state champion American Heritage-Plantation in a 49-23 loss on national television. While the Panthers kickoff classic loss did not count against them in the standings, their next game certainly did.
Few saw a 12-7 home loss to Glades Central coming in Week 1. Few anticipated Dwyer's offense to be stagnant against its early-season rival. But it happened. And for that reason alone, the state's former No. 11 team took a nosedive in our latest rankings.
Dwyer lost 20 of 22 starters from last season, bringing back only QB Daniel Parr and TE Nick Martinsen. The Panthers added new weapons on offense in WR Tavares Martin (John I. Leonard transfer), WR Isaiah Johnson (Glades Central transfer) and ATH Erick Hardnett (Cardinal Newman transfer; cousin of Newman alum and FSU freshman WR Travis Rudolph.
They also have the likes of CB Jarius Adams, RBCornelius Smith, WR Dante Cousart and S/WR Stephen Velasquez.But it's not enough - at least for now.
Dwyer plays its entire regular season schedule against Palm Beach County teams, with potentially two tough ones ahead. Palm Beach Gardens (8A; Week 3) and Royal Palm Beach (7A; Week 6) will likely be the biggest remaining tests for the relatively young team.
While it's not fair or right to write Dwyer off heading into Week 2, it is fair to say that another state title run is not likely to happen this season. But that's why we play the game. You never know how the season could turn out for Dwyer - or any other team in South Florida.
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