Miami Central 15, Dwyer 7: Panthers defense solid in loss
Friday, August 24, 2012
by Jeff Greer
Dwyer already knew its defense was good. Coach Jack Daniels said as much on the first day of fall practice, when he openly said that this 2012 unit might be the best in program history. That's tall praise considering recent Panther standouts include Florida safety Matt Elam and Tennessee linebacker Curt Maggitt, among others.
Friday night's rain-drenched preseason contest against nationally ranked Miami Central at Traz Powell Stadium was designed to test Dwyer's inexperienced offense against one of the most talented rosters in the country. Early judgments in Dwyer's 15-7 loss to Central could best be described as so-so.
Dwyer's main concern before Friday was its offensive line and its quarterback situation -- neither senior Clay Meister nor junior Rob Nittolo separated themselves in the offseason, forcing Daniels to play both equally Friday night.
Meister, who started, opened extremely well, guiding the Panthers down the field for an easy first score. But after that initial success, both Meister (115 yards and a touchdown) and Nittolo (two interceptions) struggled, though Central's defense can get a lot of credit for that.
Central's defensive line and linebackers frequently found the backfield, forcing two fumbles in addition to multiple quarterback hurries and the interceptions. The quarterbacks were sacked at least five times. Dwyer ran for no more than 40 yards as a team.
But all was not lost.
For one, junior receivers Johnnie Dixon (107 yards) and Clint Stephens (86 yards, touchdown) combined for close to 200 yards receiving, proving once again they might be the best receiving duo in the state, especially early.
Dixon twice made remarkable catches along the sidelines, including his first three for gains of 31, 28 and 30 yards. Stephens displayed his smarts, cutting off routes on multiple occasions to help his quarterback. His 3-yard touchdown catch was Dwyer's only score.
The absence of breakout junior Ezra Saffold, who has been a revelation at receiver but did not play because of a separated shoulder, was felt. His ability as a third receiver and return man should be important for the Panthers.
The Dwyer defense lived up to Daniels' early expectations. Central owns two BCS-bound running backs, juniors Dalvin Cook, a Clemson commit, and Joseph Yearby, who has pledged to Florida State. The Panthers held that pair under 100 yards combined on 20-plus carries, though Yearby's quarterback keeper from the Wildcat formation scored Central's only touchdown from 15 yards out in the third quarter.
The game was interrupted late in the fourth quarter when junior Dwyer defensive end Mark Kelly went down with a neck injury. Dwyer coaches said Kelly felt a pop in his neck, but felt his extremities as he was carted off the field on a stretcher.