High school football picks: After opening-day losses, Dwyer and Atlantic win five straight; face off on Friday
Making high school football predictions is not as arduous as performing chemistry experiments, but it feels like it this week.
Several games on the schedule could make playoff races wholly unstable. We're talking about elements that could cause a chain reaction from the top to the bottom of the district standings.
No clash is more potentially volatile than No. 3 Dwyer (5-1) at No. 5 Atlantic (5-1).
Both teams were the preseason favorites in a top-heavy District 13-7A. After losing their season-opening games - Dwyer to No. 1 Glades Central on ESPN, Atlantic to No. 2 American Heritage at home - each have put up five wins in a row, beating common opponents with ease.
Try to find an advantage between the teams. It's as difficult as balancing redox reactions.
Atlantic's pass-heavy offense features junior quarterback A.J. Puente throwing to 6-foot-5 sophomore Adly Enoicy and 6-3 senior Chad Ward. In the backfield, junior running backs Tevin Spells and Marcus Gaskin have plenty of ability. Dwyer's secondary, led by Syracuse commit Julian Whigham, is young and talented. The Panthers bring power running with quarterback Faton Bauta and junior running back Matt McMahon, and sophomore receiver Clinton Stephens has emerged as one of the area's best. Atlantic defensive backs Darrion Richardson and Brisly Estime won't back down from any challenge.
Dwyer's offensive line, which helped allow eight sacks in a season-opening loss to Miami Central, has got its feet underneath it thanks to LSU commit Patrick Miller. Same with Atlantic's young defensive line, led by 285-pound junior Keith Bryant. Atlantic's offensive line has plenty of beef, while Dwyer's defensive line features 290-pound Mike Minns at tackle and speedy junior Malik Brown coming off the edge.
Whoever finds the right formula will have the inside track to the district title. Both Atlantic and Dwyer play the other two contenders in the district - Royal Palm Beach and Lake Worth - in the next two weeks, so this game is a critical piece of both teams' playoff equation.
Also in 13-7A: Royal Palm can move into second place with a win at Lake Worth, while the Trojans can stay with the top dogs by beating the Wildcats.
District 10-8A's pair of 1-0 teams, unbeaten Park Vista and rival Boca Raton, face off in Boca while the 0-1 squads, Palm Beach Central and John I. Leonard, battle in Greenacres. Either Park Vista or Boca can earn a bit of breathing room, while the winner of the latter game emerges with renewed hope for the playoffs. That's depending on who wins the first game, of course.
Don't forget Palm Beach Gardens and Seminole Ridge in a game that could decide the District 9-8A title. Also, the winner of Jensen Beach and Boynton Beach, two unbeatens in District 14-5A, should lock in the second playoff spot behind No. 1 Glades Central.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Matt Porter: Dwyer's defense is outstanding (8.8 points per game) and its offense has come along nicely. Dwyer's best assets are coaching and depth, and both will serve them well here. Dwyer could open up a lead by forcing turnovers on defense, but Atlantic's high-flying attack is never out of a game. No reason to think it will be decided earlier than the final minutes. With slight reservation: Dwyer, 28-24.
Jeff Greer: This is one of the best games of the year and it's one of several toss-ups this week. A few weeks ago, I might've picked Dwyer, but my gut keeps telling me Atlantic. The best matchup of the game will be Dwyer's secondary against Atlantic's massive (and talented) receiving corps. The progress Puente has made gives me a little more confidence in my pick. Atlantic, 21-17.
All games at 7 p.m. Friday unless noted
MATT PORTER'S PICKS
Park Vista (6-0) at Boca Raton (2-4): Park Vista hasn't allowed more than two touchdowns in a game this season. That streak - and the Cobras' undefeated mark - stays intact after this critical District 10-8A game. Park Vista, 24-14.
Jensen Beach (2-4) at Boynton Beach (4-2): Boynton Beach brings one of the area's more underrated defenses (10.8 points per game) in addition to that talented offensive line. Boynton Beach, 23-10.
Royal Palm Beach (5-1) at Lake Worth (4-2): Hard to pick against the Wildcats given their start, and Tremane McCullough should rack up rushing yards, but Royal Palm could have problems with big Lake Worth receivers Bernard Davis and Jermer Braswell. Lake Worth, 34-31.
Palm Beach Lakes (0-6) at Sebastian River (2-4): The Sharks' two wins have come against District 14-6A opponents. They get a third here against a Lakes team that is second-to-last in total offense (10.1 points scored) and defense (42.8 points allowed) among large schools. Sebastian River, 34-7.
Benjamin (2-4) at American Heritage (4-1): Only way Stallions won't romp here is if they're caught thinking about the next two games against second- and third-place teams in District 7-3A (Cardinal Newman, Calvary Christian). American Heritage, 42-7.
Village Academy (4-2) at Coral Springs Christian (1-2): Village can't have a letdown after last week's crushing loss to Glades Day. They have to win here and beat Jupiter Christian next week to earn a playoff spot. Village, 22-10.
Centennial (4-2) at Vero Beach (6-0): Start of a tough three-game stretch for Centennial (Vero, Fort Pierce Central, Port St. Lucie). For Vero, a picture-perfect way to wrap up the District 8-8A title. Vero Beach, 31-14.
Fort Pierce Central (4-1) at Martin County (5-2): Fort Pierce Central's offense is too strong in a game that should decide the District 12-7A title. Fort Pierce Central, 27-20.
John Carroll (2-4) at Melbourne Central Catholic (4-2): Rams can spoil Holy Trinity's playoff hopes with a win, but Hustler Stadium isn't an easy place to play. Central Catholic, 26-10.
South Fork (3-3) at Okeechobee (1-5): Despite a pedestrian overall mark, South Fork's offense should help it improve to 3-0 in District 14-6A. Okeechobee's defense has allowed more yards (2,449) than anyone in the area. South Fork, 38-14.
Summit Christian (1-4) at Zion Lutheran (0-5): Summit Christian hasn't been able to move the ball well, but Zion Lutheran doesn't typically offer a ton of resistance. Summit Christian, 21-14.
Glades Central (6-0) at Fort Pierce Westwood (0-6): More fine-tuning for the No. 1 Raiders, who will spend more time on the road (1 hour, 45 minutes) than they will playing football. Glades Central, 52-7.
JEFF GREER'S PICKS
Olympic Heights (1-5) at Forest Hill (1-5): The toss-ups don't all have playoff implications. This one's just as tough to pick. O-Heights will play without injured QB Matt Kelly. Forest Hill hasn't stopped anyone in a month, but there are a few playmakers on the roster. Forest Hill, 16-13.
Palm Beach Central (4-3) at John I. Leonard (3-4): This is a must-win game for both, but Central has been slightly more consistent than lately. Leonard's lost four in a row and the pass-first, pass-always strategy doesn't work against athletic defenses. Central, 38-28.
Jupiter (1-5) at Wellington (1-5): The offenses are similarly stagnant - both average 12.5 points a game. Neither defense has done a whole lot to stand out. But Wellington's results against similar opponents give the Wolverines an ever-so-slight advantage. Wellington, 22-17.
Pahokee (1-6) at King's Academy (3-3): Pahokee's team is on course for one of its worst seasons in school history. The Blue Devils average half of the offense they did last year, and they were 3-7 in 2010. King's should run wild in this one, and score often. King's, 38-6.
Spanish River (3-4) at Santaluces (1-5): Finally, a winnable game for Spanish River after a brutal four-game losing streak in which they lost by an average of 44.7 points. Santaluces isn't nearly as bad as its record indicates, though the Chiefs have struggled on offense. Santaluces, 21-20.
Ocala-Trinity Catholic (3-3) at Glades Day (4-2): It's a long ride from Ocala to Belle Glade, but Trinity Catholic brings a pretty good squad to South Florida. Of course, Glades Day brings Kelvin Taylor, who is the biggest game-changer in the game today. Trinity Catholic, 35-28.
Pompano Beach-Highlands Christian (2-4) at Berean Christian (0-6): Berean has struggled in every aspect of its games this season. Highlands Christian won't scare many teams, but this is a mismatch. Highlands Christian, 42-0.
Lake Placid (2-5) at Clewiston (4-3): Clewiston had its four-game winning streak snapped, but the Tigers still have their eye on the playoffs. They should beat Lake Placid, and that will put them in prime position with only one more district game left. Clewiston, 28-14.
Sunrise-Somerset Academy (1-4) at Inlet Grove (1-5): As much as Inlet Grove has struggled, the 'Canes are very much alive in the district playoff race. Somerset's only win came in district play, but the Panthers' D has improved the past two weeks. Inlet Grove, 21-14.
Treasure Coast (3-3) at Jupiter Christian (6-1), at South County Stadium in Port St. Lucie: Big-school-small-school games are virtually impossible to pick. Jupiter Christian has a ton of talent, but its small roster poses a problem against a big school like T-Coast. That alone should be enough for T-Coast to win in a good game. Treasure Coast, 27-23.
Fort Lauderdale-Calvary Christian (5-1) at Cardinal Newman (6-0): Much like Newman's game against King's earlier this season, this matchup has serious playoff implications. A win all but seals Newman's playoff spot. The Crusaders' offense has been fantastic, but their D has been, too. Cardinal Newman, 28-20.
Palm Beach Gardens (5-1) at Seminole Ridge (4-2), 7:30 p.m.: Two factors work in Seminole Ridge's favor in what is otherwise an even matchup - the home crowd and a better defense. Both teams run the ball well, and possessions will be even more valuable with the clock constantly moving. Seminole Ridge, 30-27.
Last week: Jeff 11-0, Matt 11-0.
Season: Jeff 72-16, Matt 69-19.