Since Dwyer's last loss, Panthers have dominated under a 'leave no doubt' motto
Thursday, December 02, 2010
by Matt Porter
Leave no doubt.
That became Dwyer's motto Sept. 7, a day after the Panthers were punched in the stomach for the last time.
Before a national television audience, Dwyer surrendered a second-half lead and lost, in controversial fashion, to Cleveland-Glenville 26-22.
Many people who saw the game on ESPN, or saw replays, believed Dwyer had won, with what appeared to be two touchdowns in the final seconds. Officials, however, saw it differently. Either way, a season-long rallying cry was born and Dwyer went on a mission.
The Panthers won their next 11 games by an average of 43 points, only once allowing more than a touchdown. Dwyer (11-1) earned its place among the best high school football teams in the country and Friday plays Melbourne-Palm Bay (11-0) in the Class 4A regional final. A semifinal berth and a chance to repeat as state champions is up for grabs.
But to get to next week, Dwyer must beat Palm Bay, which beat the Panthers 26-18 in the spring.
Without graduating seniors Matt Elam, Gerald Christian and Robert Clark, Dwyer showed weaknesses in all phases during the loss.
Despite returning tight end Nick O'Leary and quarterback Jacoby Brissett, two of the top seniors in the nation, Dwyer heard people say it wasn't the same dominant squad as last year.
"It's true, we weren't," head coach Jack Daniels said. "We lost a lot of good players from last year's team. We had a lot of talent coming back, and the capability to be a good team, but we needed to do a lot of things differently."
In the spring game, senior defensive end Curt Maggitt was out recovering from shoulder surgery, and starting linemen Keith Bowers and Shubert Bastien were limited due to cramps. The Panthers played three sophomores that spent the regular season on the JV squad. Senior linebacker Jimelle James (transfer from Palm Beach Gardens) and senior wide receiver Tommylee Lewis (Palm Beach Lakes) hadn't arrived. Junior lineman Patrick Miller, playing his first game at tackle, missed a boatload of blocks. Normally reliable, junior kicker Bobby Puyol missed a 23-yard field goal and a pair of extra points.
The Panthers even called the coin toss incorrectly, causing them to kick off to start both halves.
Despite that, Dwyer pulled within a point in the fourth quarter, but couldn't convert a two-point try. Palm Bay returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown.
Palm Bay has put together a spotless season, led by senior quarterback Steven Hughes, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound dual-threat runner, senior tight end Eamon Ryan (6-3, 205) and senior tackle Allen Johnson (6-3, 315). On defense, the Pirates have allowed 9.9 points per game. They'll no doubt have a raucous home crowd, and the confidence of knowing they've caused Dwyer to doubt itself more than any other time in the past two years.
"We didn't block well, we didn't tackle well, we kind of got it handed to us," Daniels said. "It's been a motivating factor for us, and the kids have worked hard since then."