Sarasota, Fla. — Good morning, DawgNation. I did get a few hours of sleep. That’s after watching lighting delays back up the start time of what would be a thrilling American Heritage (Plantation) at IMG pairing in South Florida.
The game ended early Sunday morning and players were still filing out of the locker rooms about an hour after 3-star SEC target Nick Eubanks picked a pass at his own 5 on the game’s final play and brought it back all the way for a game-ending 95-yard interception return.
IMG inside linebacker Rahshaun Smith is not in the “coulda, woulda and shoulda” business. No football player worth his hip pads would lose a tight game to a great team and then point out the players who weren’t “up” for his team. That’s an admirable attitude, but it should be noted IMG was not at full strength.
5-star DT Shavar Manuel is rated as one of the nation’s Top 10 players, but he didn’t suit up on Saturday due to a coach’s decision. LSU 5-star CB commit Saivion Smith also did not play against American Heritage. The Ascenders also lost Purdue commitment Jack Wegher at RB midway through the game with what appeared to be a slight-to-moderate ankle injury.
If they played, the teams might still be tied at 7. Both defenses were game to stop just about any drive. The Patriots got their game-winning score on a drive keyed by a big gain on a reverse and then a short pass to 3-star WR Brandon Johnson that he turned into a 44-yard touchdown pass. He’s the son of former MLB catcher Charles Johnson.
He told American Heritage coach Michael Rumph before the game to stop worrying about it. The way he said it even relaxed Rumph.
5. Early contender for best defense in the country?
American Heritage’s pass rush and defensive front flustered IMG 5-star QB Shea Patterson the entire night. It seemed as if he was either rolling out or buying time with his feet to move the chains all night. He finally managed a play by completing a big ball or it wound up being negated by a holding penalty. IMG also had another touchdown wiped from the board due to a penalty.
According to the Bradenton Herald, Patterson went 18-for-35 on the night for 218 yards with one interception.
Patterson will likely entomb himself in the IMG film room for the next few days, but he might not see a better defense all season. Sure, Burns is a terrific edge rusher but junior LB James Houston was around the ball all game long. Junior DT George Ellis and sophomore DE Andrew Chatfield were also in Patterson’s grill when it counted.
The big thing was the boldness of the scheme. American Heritage lined up in a lot of Cover Zero and asked their corners to blanket IMG’s highly-rated receivers. Sophomore cornerback Patrick Surtain, Jr. had a very impressive game on Saturday locking down the other side of the field. He’s already seen as a 5-star prospect and one of the nation’s top players for the Class of 2018. Imagine how much better the Patriots would be if 2017 4-star cornerback Marco Wilson was healthy and able to play this season. His father also played in the NFL. Junior CB Will Allen also proved adept in coverage in his own right. His father also played at Syracuse and then in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants.
How athletic is Wilson? I’ll leave you with this video. Go ahead and dust off a place on the floor for your jaw to land.
Jeff Sentell covers UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.