Posted: 7:31 am Sunday, March 29th, 2009
By Jason Lieser
The opening week is going to be huge.
The first Friday night of high school football, Sept. 4, features four of the season’s premier match-ups and three of the area’s most attractive regional rivalries.
The season begins with Glades Central making a trip to Dwyer for a rematch of last year’s soaking, four-overtime, 6-0 Raiders win. At the same time, Atlantic heads to the Muck to visit Pahokee for a game that pits two of the fastest and most successful Palm Beach County teams of the past decades. Meanwhile, two-time state champion Jupiter Christian hosts American Heritage, which won a title in 2007. Go even farther north for a tangle between Fort Pierce Westwood and Treasure Coast.
That first Friday night is going to be explosive.
Those four games will be the main events, but the first week also features territory battles: Royal Palm Beach at Palm Beach Central, West Boca Raton at Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens at Palm Beach Lakes.
There could still be a few minor tweaks to the schedule (for example, every game currently is scheduled for a Friday night, but there definitely will be Thursday night football again this year), but here are a few other interesting notes:
–Dwyer could be the best team in the area in 2009 and the Panthers will get their chance to prove it. They finished No. 2 last year and will play the other four top-five teams this season. After opening against Glades Central, Dwyer visits Pahokee in Week 3, then is home against Atlantic in Week 5 and Royal Palm Beach in Week 9.
– Aside from Dwyer, each of the teams that finished in the top five last year will play three other teams who did so as well.
–Glades Central is giving the little guys a chance. In addition to bouts with traditional heavyweights, the Raiders have agreed to play at American Heritage in Week 3 and home against Jupiter Christian in Week 7. Glades Central will get its shots against big schools, too, including visits to Dwyer (Week 1), Royal Palm Beach (Week 4) and Boca Raton (Week 6).
–Pahokee lost its regular games with Vero Beach and Palm Beach Gardens. The Blue Devils, who typically like to load their non-district schedule with tough games, had trouble doing so this year because they will play in a seven-team district (7-2B). Obviously one of the four non-district games is the Muck Bowl, which is currently slated for Nov. 13 at Glades Central), and Pahokee’s other three non-district games are: Atlantic (Week 1), Dwyer (Week 3), and at Palm Beach Lakes (Week 9). The Blue Devils also play their final three games on the road.
–Glades Central and Pahokee will only play concurrent home games on two nights: Weeks 7 and 8.
–Royal Palm Beach’s district schedule leaves something to be desired. The Wildcats will play at Lake Worth and John I. Leonard, then home against Santaluces. None of those teams posted a winning record last year. To compensate, Royal Palm Beach has home games against Glades Central, Atlantic and Seminole Ridge (Week 11), as well as a visit to Dwyer.
–Public schools in St. Lucie County, where the school district is ripping $1,000,000 out of the athletics budget for 2009, will play no more than nine games this fall.
“You could say you want that extra game, and you do, but we were still able to put together a good schedule,” Treasure Coast coach Bill Kelley said. ” The decision to go from 10 games to nine games was a preemptive strike. We were prepared for that.”
The upside, Port St. Lucie coach Doug Kerr said, is the extra bye week during the season.
“It’s tough, but that’s the rule,” Kerr said. “That’s where we’re at now.”
–Palm Beach Gardens has a scheduling issue on its hands. The Gators hoped to have their new stadium ready no later than mid-season, but athletic director Bill Weed said it will not open in 2009. That means Palm Beach Gardens will try to play its home games at Dwyer, but both schools have home dates in Weeks 8 and 11. Weed and Panthers interim athletic director Tom Pagley already are talking about the Gators playing on Thursday or Saturday of those weeks.
–Palm Beach Central and Wellington will not play in the regular season. Both schools are in Wellington and typically play for the Wellington Cup. Palm Beach Central is upset about losing this game, but the Broncos still get natural rivalry games against Royal Palm Beach, Park Vista and Seminole Ridge — the last two as district contests. It is unclear whether Wellington requested not to play Palm Beach Central or simply did not ask for the Broncos on its schedule. Financially, this hurts both schools over the next two years. Wellington offered to play the game as the pre-season kickoff classic, but Palm Beach Central declined. Additionally, Palm Beach Central has big games at Glades Central and Atlantic and a home date with Boca Raton (the last two are district games).
–Is this the year Treasure Coast steps into prominence? The Titans have one of the nation’s top college recruits in linebacker Jeff Luc and have continued to show progress since the school opened in 2006. They are in a difficult but winnable district, with the biggest game coming Week 9 at Vero Beach. Luc and the Titans come down to Palm Beach County to play Jupiter in Week 10.
–Boca Raton and Park Vista, schools currently entangled in an FHSAA investigation that cost former Bobcats coach Eddie Giersbrook his job, will meet in a district game Nov. 6 at Boca Raton. All things considered, it is probably in everyone’s best interest to play this game on Glades Road. Bringing quarterback Eddie Sullivan back to Park Vista for a game would be a circus. That being said, expect a solid showing by Cobras fans for this one. This will be the first meeting between these two teams.
–The Bobcats, No. 9 at the end of last season, face their biggest challenge of the year when Glades Central comes to town in Week 6. If you think that artificial turf is fast now, wait until you see Antwon Chisholm and the Raiders burn it up. Boca Raton finishes the season with a tough little three-game stretch: home against Atlantic, home against Park Vista and at Boynton Beach.
–Fort Pierce Westwood begins the season with three straight road games, including Week 1 at Treasure Coast and Week 3 at Vero Beach. The Panthers face Fort Pierce Central in the final week of the season. That game counts as one of three home games for Westwood all year.
–South Fork opens the year at Jensen Beach, then goes to Okeechobee two weeks later. The Bulldogs host Martin County and visit Vero Beach in Weeks 5 and 6. They close the year by welcoming in Jupiter Christian.
–Seminole Ridge, No. 10 at the end of last season, has a relatively light non-district slate. The Hawks play in a very difficult district, but their other six games come against teams that went a combined 23-40 last year. Their district opponents (Atlantic, Boca Raton, Palm Beach Central and Park Vista) posted a combined winning percentage of .750 (33-11) in 2008.
–King’s Academy and Glades Day will play in Belle Glade in Week 9, one of the tougher games on each of those teams’ schedules.
–Spanish River and Wellington, two programs that combined to go 6-53 over the past three seasons, will play at Spanish River in Week 9. Assuming West Boca Raton beats both of them earlier in the season to win the three-team district, the winner of the Wolverines-Sharks game Oct. 30 will go to the playoffs. This game needs a nickname — suggestions welcome.
–It will be a similar situation when Suncoast and Boynton Beach meet in Week 6. Those schools play each other before they face Glades Central, but it is likely the winner of the Chargers-Tigers game on Oct. 9 will grab a post-season berth. I’d set the over-under for that one at 80 points.
–If Jupiter Christian really is that good, the Eagles will show it this year. Coach Bill Powers and his players will put their state-best 27-game winning streak on the line with trips to Glades Central, Charlotte (N.C.) Christian and South Fork. On top of that, the Eagles have home games against American Heritage and Glades Day. Powers tried to schedule Pahokee, too, but the two sides were unable to agree on a game. The Blue Devils only have four non-district openings this season.
–After the Jupiter Christian game, American Heritage heads way north to play defending Class 3A state champion Cocoa. (Glades Central tried to schedule Cocoa as well but could not find a date that worked for both teams). The Stallions host the Raiders in Week 3 and then their schedule lightens considerably — although they will face emerging rival King’s Academy (now a district foe) on Oct. 16 in Delray Beach.
–Clewiston starts the pre-season with a brutal bus ride, probably two hours, to South Fork for kickoff classic game. The biggest games on the Tigers’ schedule all are in the first half of the season. They are home against King’s Academy in Week 2, at Glades Day in Week 3 and then back in Belle Glade to play Glades Central in Week 5. Last time Clewiston visited the Raiders, the Tigers dressed just 25 players but still were in the game early in the fourth quarter. Glades Central ended up winning 23-6.
–Okeechobee begins life after Lonnie Pryor at Vero Beach in Week 1. The Brahmans host South Fork and Sebastian River in Weeks 3 and 4. Their toughest game comes in a Week 8 visit to Dwyer, and they close the season with home games against 2008 playoff teams Palm Beach Lakes and Clewiston.
If you need a refresher on the new districts, click here.