Pahokee's forgettable season could be memorable with a Muck Bowl win
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
by Jeff Greer
PAHOKEE -- Whiteboards line the hall leading to Pahokee's palatial locker room. It's on these boards that title-winning teams and great players in Pahokee's past are remembered.
There won't be a whiteboard commemorating a seventh championship team this season - the Blue Devils are 3-6 and will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
But this is the Glades, where winning one game can make the forgettable memorable.
For Pahokee and neighboring Belle Glade, that game is the annual Muck Bowl. As former Pahokee coach Don Thompson joked, even a state championship doesn't suffice if you don't win the Super Bowl of the Glades.
"It's probably the biggest thing next to Christmas for us," Pahokee Mayor J.P. Sasser said. "If we can win the Muck Bowl, all would be forgiven."
But lately, beating Glades Central has not come easy ... or often.
Glades Central leads 17-8 in the series since the schools started keeping track. That includes a convincing 47-21 rout last year.
Plus, Glades Central, winners of six state titles, is 8-1 this season and favored to reach the Class 2A state finals.
That's why Pahokee coach Blaze Thompson, Don's son, hopes his team can find the passion and energy necessary to pull off a shocker.
"If you can't get motivated and pumped up for this game," Blaze Thompson said Monday, "then I don't know what's beating inside your chest."
One thing going for Pahokee is that Friday night's game will be played for the first time at the Blue Devils' Anquan Boldin Stadium, which is in its second year of use. As usual, the game likely will be sold out, filled with screaming fans of both teams.
But the Monday before the Muck Bowl, there was an eerie quiet around the stadium. As players trotted out to practice, the click-clack sound of cleats was the only noise louder than the ominous squawks of vultures circling a midday snack near the stadium press box.
Before the season started, Blaze Thompson tempered expectations, explaining that his team had 22 new starters and "a lot to learn."
But readying for a hard season is much different than suffering through one.
The players' quiet procession to the practice field said it all.
"They're down off that loss," said Thompson, referring to Pahokee's 42-0 loss to Fort Lauderdale-University last Friday.
"They're down off this losing season we've had."
In youth, potential
There's hope that this season is an aberration, a rare misstep in Pahokee's recent run of dominance.
After Pahokee graduated all of its starters, few can blame the team for struggling, even with its speed and athleticism. Plus, there are young talents like freshman quarterback Rashaun Croney and junior athletes Keithlin Patrick and Shaquille White.
"I'm sure we'll be back," Pahokee alum MacQuoria Hale said.
Her sister and fellow Pahokee grad Mikilriya added, "We can't win every year. We won't get there overnight."
It's hard to ignore the uncharacteristic year Pahokee has had.
The Blue Devils might not break 1,000 yards passing or rushing as a team: Through nine games, they have 778 rushing yards and 701 passing.
Their leading rusher last year, Fred Pickett, alone had 1,142 yards while quarterback De'Joshua Johnson had 964 passing yards.
Pahokee last year averaged 354.4 yards per game, more than double this year's total (164.3).
The Blue Devils' defense hasn't been much better. Opponents average 24.4 points and 148 yards rushing against them this year. Last year, Pahokee gave up 13.2 points and 63 yards per game.
But as MacQuoria Hale said: "When it comes to the Muck Bowl, records (and stats) don't matter."
Pahokee hopes so, especially the seniors who suffered through a hard final season. That includes South Florida-bound Rontavious Atkins, leading rusher Jamal Dortch, leading passer Joe Eason and 16 others.
"This is a big game," Blaze Thompson said, "and they understand it's something that will stick around with them for the rest of their lives."
When a Pahokee kid becomes old enough to play football, the goal is to make those whiteboards. They can have their name forever remembered by playing college or pro football, or by playing on a championship team.
But there's no whiteboard for 3-6.
Yet one 48-minute adventure, one victorious uprising on Friday could make the 2010 season hard to forget after all.