Posted: 3:04 am Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Post-game thoughts from Lake Worth’s exciting 24-19 win over John I. Leonard 

By Jeff Greer

GREENACRES — For an instant during Friday’s rivalry game between Lake Worth and John I. Leonard, everything froze.

A back-and-forth affair highlighted by a few big plays had suddenly arrived at one final, decisive play.

Fourth-and-Friday.

Thirty-one yards out.

Leonard ball, down five points.

The kind of situation that elects Lake Worth coach Errick Lowe mayor of Heartburn City.

The kind of situation where a certain high school sports writer says to no one in particular, “Man, this is a good game.”

And as the last-gasp Hail Mary fell incomplete and the Lake Worth players high-stepped and hopped around, celebrating their 24-19 win, that one thought stuck.

What a good game.

I know I’ve used this space before to complain that sometimes in this business you don’t get a great chance to capture how good a game was in the story you write for the newspaper. Deadlines serve as the frowning chaperone to that kind of fun. That’s why these post-game blogs serve a purpose. Let’s take a look inside yet another good game from Palm Beach County.

Before we start, I’ve now seen four really good football games this season.

(1) Atlantic’s hold-on-for-the-ride 35-32 win over Boca.
(2) Glades Central’s exciting 41-34 overtime win over American Heritage.
(3) Palm Beach Central’s big-play-after-big-play 38-32 win over Gardens.

And then this one.

Crazy finish. I guess I can’t mention how great this game was without first telling you about the finish. The scoring went 7-0 Leonard, 7-7, 13-7 Leonard, 14-13 Lake Worth, 21-13, 21-19, 24-19, ball game. The result was in doubt until the last play.

Here’s what happened:

Lake Worth drove 43 yards on 12 plays and ate 5:13 off the clock. The Trojans capped the drive with a 33-yard field goal from Chris Wimer. Breathing room.

As they’d done several times (and one time successfully), the Trojans squibbed the ensuing kickoff. Leonard fell on it, but not before some dry-heave-inducing nanoseconds for Leonard coach Wayne Monroe. The Lancers started at their own 46. Quarterback Adam Johnson, who had a magnificent game, hit Jerry Jones for a 13-yard gain. But that’s where it stalled. One final pass fell incomplete. Game over.

Well, not really.

Moore (Sun-Sentinel)

Lake Worth came out in the victory formation. But as the Trojans ran out, for a reason he couldn’t pinpoint, Lake Worth quarterback Evan Moore thought about fumbling the snap. Not that he wanted to, but it crossed his mind under the category of “things I shouldn’t think about in this situation but now I’m absolutely thinking about it.”

“And then I dropped it,” Moore said. “I cramped up right away and lost it. It was terrible. That was really terrible. And it was my fault. I pulled my hands out too early. The ball was so wet. I’d been thinking about it before the play … I’ll never think about that again before a play, that’s for sure.”

Leonard, with renewed excitement, took over at the Lake Worth 40. First down, incomplete. Second down, a 9-yard completion to Duke Crawford. Third-and-1, incomplete.

Fourth-and-touchdown?

No dice.

“It’s gonna bring us together.” Every year this game is important to both teams. The players know each other. The two cities are next to each other. And before this year, the two teams were in the same district together. But last year’s game had a different feel than this one. Last year, Lake Worth cruised to a 20-7 win that clinched a district title and forced Leonard to play in a three-team tiebreaker three nights later.

This time around, it was earlier in the season and a non-district game. And it was a toss-up.

Lake Worth came in struggling, losers of two in a row and searching for answers on defense. Leonard rolled in 3-0 and looking very good on both sides of the ball. So even if this wasn’t a district-deciding, for-all-the-marbles showdown, it still had all the makings of a great game. And Lake Worth’s three big scoring plays — 27- and 63-yard runs by Evan Moore and a 56-yard catch-and-run by Spencer Steele — made all the difference.

“We knew from Monday’s first practice that it’d be a dog fight,” Moore said. “It always is against Leonard … Spencer does whatever he has to do for us. I’ve never seen him run so fast. I wouldn’t want to tackle him, either. That was awesome.”

Even more important — at least for Lake Worth — was that the win slowed the team’s negative roll. And with district play now upon the Trojans, it could turn out to be a season-saving W.

“I think it’s gonna bring us together,” Moore said. “This win will absolutely help us down the line. I’m sure it will. We needed it.”

For Leonard, a team that looked as good as I’d heard it was, it was a chance for Monroe to teach his kids that they were still learning, still working, but they can play with anyone. The progress his team has made in the offseason is evident.

“We’re just now learning how to win and what it takes,” Monroe said. “The joy is the walk. Everybody thinks the joy is once you’re at the top, you get joy. The joy is seeing young boys work to become young men and what we do off the field. That means more to me than on the field. If we get it right off the field, on-the-field stuff takes care of itself.”

Moore, Moore, Moore. Lake Worth also needed its star quarterback to make some key plays to spark his team’s offense. Moore struggled early on. He completed two of his first six passes and threw two interceptions in the first quarter. Lake Worth committed three turnovers in the opening 12 minutes.

On a huge drive in the second quarter, Moore and Alex Hook (who we’ll get to later on) combined for 31 yards and a Moore pass to Jermer Braswell went for another nine to push Lake Worth to the Leonard 27. Moore found a seam down the left side, evaded a would-be tackler and built up a head of steam. As the Leonard safety came hurtling toward him, Moore stopped dead in his tracks.

Excuse me, sir. Ten more yards. Six points.

Skip ahead to the fourth quarter. Lake Worth led 14-13. Still, at that point, there was the sense that the Trojans were, for lack of a better phrase, lucky to be ahead. But what Moore did on first-and-10 from the Lake Worth 37 wasn’t really luck. Let’s let him describe his 63-yard touchdown scamper:

“I rolled out right on a boot,” Moore started. “They had it contained all the way, so I took off. Looking back on it, I just remember Tysheem Bryant clearing out two people. Just absolutely clearing them out. I didn’t even think I’d get that far.”

Moore ran for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.

“Credit goes to the offensive line,” Moore said. “We ran the ball the entire fourth quarter. Our O-line was great. They did a fantastic job.”

A franchise quarterback at Leonard. Not to be outdone, Johnson turned in a sterling performance, too. The junior played a part in all three Leonard touchdowns (his big pass to Jerry Jones set up the first, he threw for the second and ran for the third). He ran for 82 yards and threw for 199. His 3-yard touchdown run looks a lot simpler in newspaper print than it did on Friday night.

Johnson (Photo by Taylor Jones/Palm Beach Post)

Forced back to about the 15-yard line by a collapsing pocket, Johnson turned on his headlamp and found a tunnel out of trouble. He carved his way back inside the 5.

Once he got there, he absorbed the initial hit, soaked in another one, reached out for the goal line and stretched the ball in as a third hit came. Kid’s 5-foot-9, 170 pounds.

“I’ll tell you what, that kid has the most heart I’ve ever been around in a long time,” Monroe said. “Everybody talks about (Moore) and Evan’s a great ballplayer, and so is the kid from Jupiter, but I have a kid who has the biggest heart I’ve ever seen in my life. He just doesn’t quit.”

You always talk about the quarterbacks, Jeff. You’re right, you’re right. So let’s talk about the other guys who impressed me tonight. This was the first time I’d seen either team live this fall, so here are a few takeaways:

Andy Daceus is a monster for Leonard. An absolute monster. A 6-4, 235-pound menace. He had two sacks tonight. He’s as disruptive as any defensive lineman in the county. I know this has been documented in every forum. I just wanted to say it myself.

Cory Moore’s presence at linebacker for Lake Worth had a huge impact on the game. He almost iced the win with an one-handed interception. But Moore, who is Evan’s brother, played despite his still-injured toe and played a huge part in improving Lake Worth’s previously struggling run defense. As his brother said, “He gives our defense its swag.”

Leonard has a very, very good receiving corps and secondary. Duke Crawford, Jerry Jones, Keymonni Miller, Nesley Ovincy, Jailen Joyce … these kids can play. Crawford and Jones each caught five passes and Ovincy caught three. Joyce snagged one — a 38-yard score. They will be matchup nightmares in their district and give Leonard the chance to compete with any team.

Alex Hook played the role of drive-sustainer for Lake Worth. In addition to playing corner on defense, Hook also ran for 106 yards on 21 carries. It’s hard enough preparing for Moore. Throw in Hook, and that running attack is no picnic.

What is it with good games? One last parting thought: It’s Sept. 24 and I’ve already seen four really great games. It’s bad for my editors who need my stories on deadline. It’s bad for my writing because I don’t get the chance to really think too much. But boy is it great watching. Here’s hoping that doesn’t change.