By Patrick Bernadeau
For Hometown News
TREASURE COAST -
They share the same city and stadium but Fort Pierce Central and Fort Pierce Westwood high schools walked into their respective spring football games with different goals and agendas.
They walked out of their contests with the same results and more work to do, but different impressions on their performances.
Fort Pierce Central traveled to Palm Beach Gardens and crumbled to fellow Class 7A opponent and perennial power W.T. Dwyer 43-26 Thursday night at Blum Stadium.
The following night, Fort Pierce Westwood was shut out by Cardinal Newman 24-0 Friday night at Lawnwood Staduim.
Both teams got off to slow starts due in part to a series of turnovers.
Dwyer scored touchdowns after spotting the ball on Central's 28 and 3 yard line, thanks to a turnover on downs and a mishandled laterals. Two Rob Nittolo scoring strikes in the span of 59 seconds to receivers Ezra Saffold and Johnnie Dixon gave Dwyer a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Westwood would fumble on two of their first four plays and after Cardinal Newman linebacker Jake Moschella scooped up a Jinsly Jhon fumble and return it 37 yards to the end zone, Westwood found themselves in a 24-0 hole.
"We turned the ball over way too much," said Gene Clemons, Westwood head coach.
"With five turnovers (four fumbles and an interception) in the first half, you are rarely going to a win a game with that kind of performance."
The responses by both Central and Westwood were admirable and full of fight, but in terms of the result, and it was far too little, far too late.
After falling behind by two scores, Central would respond on with a 5-play, 60-yard drive capped off by a Sam Vaughn 25-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Stevens to close the gap to seven. The touchdown deficit was as close as the Cobras would be, as Dwyer was just too physical with their defensive front, dominating the Central offensive line and putting pressure on quarterbacks Vaughn and starter DeMarcus Semer.
With more than 20 colleges watching from the sidelines, including a couple from BCS-level conferences, the Dwyer Panther receivers displayed their superior speed and athleticism all night, constantly having their way with the Cobra secondary. After a fourth-down catch and run 27 yards to pay dirt by Clint Stephens turned the deficit back to two touchdowns, the game, from a competitive standpoint, was over.
Vaughn had a nice performance, adding two rushing scores (from 70 yards and 1 yard out) and another touchdown pass to Josh Knight, but on the whole, Josh Shaffer, Cobra head coach, didn't take too many positives out of the game.
"I saw that they battled back and they wanted to put on a good show but when you look at the fundamentals of football, we didn't do it correctly," said Shaffer. "We didn't block and we didn't tackle well."
Back at Lawnwood, Westwood would not light up the scoreboard, but after getting poor snaps under control, which persisted from the opening snap through the third quarter, the Panthers were the better team as the game drew to a close. With the offense running the spread, the running game would progress and gain yardage by chunks.
After a rough start, the defense was impressive for much of the game, shutting the Cardinal Newman offense out the final three quarters. The tackling was terrific at the linebacker level while the front four, lead by Brett Crossman and Sharieff Rhaheed, created pressure, collapsed the pocket, blew up plays in the back field and got sacks on the quarterback.
"I thought that we were very physical, on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball," Clemons said.
Fort Pierce Central is coming off a 9-2 campaign in 2011, advancing to the regional finals before falling to eventual Class 7A state champion Manatee in postseason play.
Fort Pierce Westwood will be trying to bounce back from a 1-8 campaign in 2011. Westwood and Central will meet in the 2012 regular season opener on Aug. 31 at Lawnwood Stadium.
Central will play Treasure Coast and Westwood will host St. Lucie West Centennial in their kickoff classics Aug. 24.