By Patrick Bernadeau
For Hometown News
MARTIN COUNTY - In a game that had a little bit of everything, there were simply two things that were key in the South Fork Bulldogs' victory Friday night: Lorenzo Velasco and the ball landing in the hands of the South Fork defense.
Despite a slow start, on the heels of six takeaways and nearly 200 yards from Velasco, the Bulldogs remained undefeated on the young season following a 26-9 home win over the Port St. Lucie Jaguars Friday night at Joebud Staggs Bulldog Stadium in Stuart.
Of the six Port St. Lucie turnovers, three set up Bulldog scores on the very next play.
"It was ugly but we'll take it," said South Fork head coach Dennis Lavelle.
Unlike in their blowout of Martin County the previous week, South Fork struggled to get going in the first half.
On the first drive of the game, quarterback Cody Labanowitz would fumble after driving into PSL territory. After driving inside the PSL 10-yard line their next possession, a collection of errors, including a dropped touchdown reception, a 13-yard loss on a sack and a false start penalty, would result in a missed 45-yard field goal attempt from Daniel Alejandre-Guerro.
The first quarter ended scoreless with the Jaguars marching downfield reaching the South Fork 12-yard line. However, the first two plays of the second quarter would represent the theme of the night.
South Fork LB Tim Whitehead, while playing in a zone, stepped in front of and intercepted a DJ Juste slant at the South Fork 5-yard line and returned it 28 yards. On the very next play, Velasco took an outside pitch right, patiently found the hole and cut back left through the Jaguar defense 67 yards for the game's opening score.
Even with the quick momentum change, the Jaguars hung tough making plays on both sides of the ball.
Midway through the second quarter, PSL was able to stop a fake punt attempt and with Juste able to execute brilliantly in the 2-minute drill to set up a Daniel DeLaHaye 20-yard field goal, the teams headed into halftime with South Fork holding a 6-3 lead.
The beginning of the second half looked exactly like the beginning of the second quarter. On the first play from scrimmage, Jaguar running back Lyle Messam fumbled on a run up the middle that was recovered by Bulldog LB Josh Zill. On the ensuring play, Velasco burst through the teeth of the Jaguar defense and reached the end zone with relative ease, from 25-yards out, giving the Bulldogs a two score lead.
Velasco added another long run of 42 yards to set up South Fork's third score of the ballgame, a Lebanowitz QB sneak from a yard out with 6:02 left in the third quarter. Despite rushing for a magnificent190 yards on just 19 carries, Velasco was selfless when evaluating his performance.
"It's our offensive line," he said. "I give all the credit to (them) every week. However many yards I have is all because of the line."
South Fork put the game away after Port St. Lucie, for the third time, started a quarter off with a turnover. In the face of weak side blitz, Juste was intercepted deep near the left sideline by South Fork safety Uzziah Davis who, after a series of broken tackles, returned the ball 63 yards to the PSL 1-yard line. The return was so spectacular the Bulldog crowd gave Davis a standing ovation.
"That was an extraordinary play," said Lavelle. "That broke their back. The return put the nail in the coffin."
It was still just a two-score game at 19-3 before the intercept, but following the takeaway, Lebanowitz on the ensuring play was able to get the ball past the goal line and put the game on ice.
Port St. Lucie had a number of positives to take out of this game. The undermanned Jaguars actually outgained their opponent 342 yards to South Fork's 333 yards. The defense held Lebanowitz to just three completions while collecting as many sacks.
Juste was 10 for 21 for 124 yards and added 58 yards on the ground, while Messam had 139 yards on 17 carries. Backup quarterback William Tenny was able to find Dakota Meizinger for a 6-yard touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter.
"I think they are a good football team and outplayed us overall," said Lavelle. "They played hard, they ran out of gas. We didn't beat them, they lost. It's a big difference."
But for all the positives, the turnovers were too much to overcome.
"They were able to capitalize on our mishaps," said Jaguars head coach Hilary Poole. "You have to make sure you take care of the ball and that's something we have to work on."
The Jaguars play in front of their home fans for the first time in the 2012 regular season Friday hosting Jensen Beach, while South Fork will next play on Sept. 21 in a home game against Forest Hill.