By: Wells Dusenbury
Since the Dwyer/American Heritage game was announced back in the summer, the excitement for the match-up has been palpable. Big school vs. small school. Star running back Greg Bryant vs. a ferocious Dwyer defense. State title winners squaring off head-to-head. Bragging rights for Palm Beach County.
While we've grown accustomed to be disappointed by games with massive build-up, this one was different.
It lived up to all the hype.
In front of an overflow crowd, American Heritage topped Dwyer 13-7 in a defensive thriller, with the Stallions sealing the game on a last second end-zone interception. Here are my takeaways from Heritage's monster win.
Heritage's defense came to play
The story of this game without a doubt was the superb defensive performance of American Heritage. Against a Dwyer team that looked like it was starting to put it together offensively, the Stallions' defense was suffocating.
While Dwyer's offense was able to move the ball at times, Heritage kept them out of the end zone the entire night. In the second quarter, the Stallions recorded a key goal line stand when the Panthers went for it on 4th and goal.
Then later in the third, the defense had the play of the night.
With quarterback Robert Nittolo backed up inside this own 10 yard line, linebacker Evan Harvey (a former Dwyer player) strip-sacked Nittolo and Rondarion Bell recovered in the end zone for the score to give Heritage a 10-0 lead.
A-H sealed the deal in the final seconds of the game when safety Xavier Swinton intercepted quarterback Daniel Parr (more on him in a moment) in the end zone on 4th down to secure the 13-7 win.
"I was thinking: 'Defense has to make a big play. We've got to stop them,'" said Swinton on Dwyer's final drive. "I knew we were going to come up big.'"
While the game meant nothing in terms of district standings or playoff match-ups, American Heritage wanted to keep the dream alive of having the first perfect season in school history.
"We talk about it everyday in practice: a perfect season," said Swinton.
There were question marks leading up to the game about how much the starters would play with an arduous playoff schedule looming, but those ultimately never came into play.
Before the game, I asked a Heritage assistant what the plan would be in terms of playing time and he told me, "We're going for the win. These kids are too amped up."
When asked about it after the game, head coach Stacy Sizemore was in complete agreement.
"They wanted to try and get that undefeated season and I'm behind them 100 percent."
Bryant held in check
One of the intriguing match-ups heading into the game was how Bryant would fare against Dwyer's fast, hard-hitting defense. For the most part Dwyer held him in check.
With the exception of two big runs (41 and 21 yards), Bryant could never get loose against the Panther defense.
In the second half, they used him more as a receiver in the slot and he was able to make some big plays in the passing game. In the 4th quarter, Bryant had a huge 33-yard catch on 3rd and 7 that helped set up a Greg Joseph field goal to give Heritage a 13-7 lead.
After a three touchdown game by Robert Nittolo in the win against Royal Palm Beach, it looked like the Panthers quarterback situation had finally been settled. Clay Meister had started the majority of the season, but Dwyer elected to go with Nittolo after the Atlantic loss.
However, just one week after the Royal Palm win, it was once again a revolving door at QB. While Nittolo got the start, head coach Jack Daniels elected to sit him after losing the crucial fumble in the end zone, and instead hand the reigns to youngster Daniel Parr.
While Parr is just a sophomore, he didn't look like it. On his first drive of the game, he drove the Panthers 80 yards downfield and hooked up with Ezra Saffold on a 3-yard touchdown for Dwyer's only score of the game.
His shining moment though came with 1:46 left in the game. With Dwyer trailing 13-7 and facing a 4th and 10 on its own 35-yard line, Parr stood cool in the pocket and connected with Clint Stephens for a 22-yard gain to keep the drive alive.
Even though the drive ultimately came up short, Parr was solid in his first major test of the season. Daniels was coy afterward about who would start in the Panthers' Regional Quarterfinal match-up against Northeast and will certainly have a tough decision to make next week.
Dwyer's run problem
One of the few bright spots from Dwyer's 28-12 loss to Atlantic a few weeks ago was the running game, specifically the performance of running back Alonso Smith. The hard-running junior ran for 187 yards and two touchdowns and looked to solidfy the Panthers' ground attack.
Against the Stallions though, Dwyer wasn't able to replicate that success, something that drew the ire of Daniels after the game.
"We may have more questions coming out of this game then answers," said Daniels. "They're playing five people in the box and we can't run the football. That's a real problem."
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