Fort Meade, Bartow Prepare for Battle of 17
Thu. September 20, 2012 at 10:59 p.m. | By Polk Preps Staff
Bartow's Dimitri Leverett, left, and Fort Meade's De'Vante Clark, right, will lead their teams against each other. (Photo by LEDGER STAFF PHOTOS)
By BILL KEMP
LEDGER MEDIA GROUP
It's not a district showdown, but anytime Fort Meade and Bartow bump heads on the gridiron, the chin snaps are pulled snug.
"It's the battle of 17," Bartow head coach Brett Biggs said, referring to the schools' locations, both near U.S. 17. "It's right up the road, I mean what more can you say? It has a district feel."
Biggs, a 2002 Bartow graduate, played running back and holds first-hand knowledge of the game's relevance and intensity.
"My senior year was the first time we had played Fort Meade in a lot of years," he said. "I know the preparation for this game on both sides is generally more focused on detail. It's Bartow-Fort Meade week. One little mistake can cost you the ballgame."
To thicken tonight's plot, both teams will enter Bartow Memorial Field with 3-0 records and a key player looking to return from injury.
Fort Meade running back De'Vante Clark has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury. Miners head coach Jemalle Cornelius said Clark worked out at practice this week wearing a red no-contact jersey.
"He's day to day," Cornelius said. "I can honestly say that he has progressed pretty good this week. He ran around a little bit, and we let him go full pads on Tuesday. It will be a game-time decision. I know he wants to be out there because it is the Bartow game and it is the one that everyone kind of looks to. It is probably the biggest non-district game we have on our schedule."
Miners running back Ryan Fulse has seen plenty of action in Clark's absence. The sophomore ran for 251 yards and three touchdowns in the past two weeks.
Bartow won last week's game against Lake Region 37-10 without junior starting quarterback Dimitri Leverett, who was recovering from a shoulder injury on his non-throwing arm.
"He'll get an opportunity to play (tonight), but he will not start," Biggs said. "It was just a deep-shoulder bruise. If needed, he was going to be able to play (last week), but fortunately, we were able to come out victorious."
Roy'Qies Graham will get the start at quarterback tonight for the Yellow Jackets. He filled in for Leverett last week and threw for more than 104 yards and a touchdown.
The Class 6A Yellow Jackets returned a punt for a touchdown and scored on a fumble recovery against Lake Region, but Biggs, who gives his Yellow Jackets a "B-" grade three games into the season, is curious to see how his defense and special teams respond against lightning-quick Fort Meade.
"The defense has to play faster," Biggs said. "We're anxious to see how they play on Friday night because we really stressed tempo this week. He (Cornelius) always prepares them for battle well. I know they're not a 7A school, but the teams he's able to put on the field each and every year, well, I just tip my hat to them."
Cornelius, who grades his team a "C" at this point in the season, said he'll learn a lot about his Class 3A Miners from tonight's clash.
"I'm looking forward to see how we respond playing another 3-0 team," Cornelius said. "They hit you from different angles. … We're almost forced to play a perfect game. I think the first quarter is going to be very important that we get off to a good start."