Forest Hill’s perfect season faces huge test in nemesis Dwyer


It hasn’t happened often in recent years, but there’s a big football game at Forest Hill on Friday night.

The unbeaten Falcons take on perennial power Dwyer — a team they have never beaten — in a key District 13-7A matchup that could have postseason implications. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

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Forest Hill (5-0), coming off a 2-7 season, is 2-0 in district play. The Panthers (3-2), coming off a second straight district championship, are 1-1 after opening district play with a surprising loss to Olympic Heights Sept. 28.

A win would boost the playoff chances for both teams. Each has two district games remaining, with the Falcons set to play the Lions on the road next Friday. Olympic Heights also is 2-0 in the district, and plays Friday at home against 1-1 Palm Beach Lakes.

Under the new Florida High School Athletic Association playoff format, district champions earn automatic postseason bids, while all other playoff qualifiers would be determined based on points.

As of Tuesday, both Forest Hill and Dwyer have accumulated enough points to make the postseason in Class 7A.

“We’d like to remain in the conversation for the playoffs from here on out,” Forest Hill coach Jude Blessington said. “But this group knows we can only do that by taking one game at a time. Our season really begins now as we face the big dogs of our district. And we’ll have to make sure we continue doing the little things that have gotten us off to a good start.”

Blessington expected a strong start from the Falcons in 2017, despite last season’s two-win effort.

Forest Hill’s first six opponents finished a combined 11-47 last season, and through five games this year — the Falcons did not play John I. Leonard in Week 3 because of Hurricane Irma — they are 8-20.

The Falcons also returned 295-pound lineman Jordon Earle — No. 24 on the Post’s Class of 2018 Big Board — and brought in a handful of key players, including quarterback Darius McClendon.

“Coming out of spring, we knew we could win a bunch of early games,” said Blessington, who is in his fifth season with the Falcons. “I’m not sure we would have predicted winning all of them, but this group really does a very good job of just focusing on the task at hand each week.”

McClendon, a junior, has helped lead the way on offense for the Falcons, who are averaging 33 points per game. He has run Forest Hill’s option attack effectively, while running backs Chaz Eaton and Ryan Edwards, and receivers Deshon Simans and Carlos Diaz have played key roles at their positions.

“It really has been offense by committee,” Blessington said. “Defensively it is more of the same. Most of the kids I just mentioned play both ways. We give up some yards, but find a way to get off the field in key situations.”

They will face a huge task against Dwyer, which has shut out its last two opponents and scored 42 points in a win against Wellington last week.

“When I look at Dwyer on film, I see a team filled with gifted athletes,” Blessington said. “We’ll have to work on running to the football and tackling, because all of their skill guys run hard and can make you miss. We can’t afford to make mistakes against them and expect to win. They’ll be a great challenge for us.”



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