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Here we go again.
The Lakewood High School football team travels to Donald L. Crolley Memorial Stadium on Friday with a chance to make the 4A state playoffs if it's able to beat Sumter School District rival Crestwood.
The Knights are pretty much in the same boat, even though they are in better position than LHS.
Both teams could finish as high as third and as low as fifth depending upon the results. Region IV has four automatic spots in the playoffs, even though the opportunity is there for the No. 5 team to go as an at-large team.
That's what the Knights did last year when the teams met pretty much under the exact same circumstances. Crestwood won 45-28 and followed it with a win over Darlington to earn an at-large bid.
"It is a big game for us," said Crestwood head coach Roosevelt Nelson."These kids know each other. A lot of them are related or live in the same communities, go to the same churches or just hang out at the same places."
The Knights have won four straight games against the Gators and hold a 20-5 series advantage.
Lakewood enters the contest 3-6 overall, and 1-3 in region play. The Gators are currently in fifth place in the region, while CHS is tied for third with Orangeburg-Wilkinson. They can move all the way up to the third if they score a a certain number of points and allow a certain number of points against Crestwood and Orangeburg-Wilkinson loses to Lower Richland -- or they can miss the playoffs altogether.
"We really control our own fate," said Lakewood head coach Larry Cornelius, who picked up his first region victory in his third year with a 54-6 win over Dreher last week. "It should be a fun game. We're looking to win, just like any other game, and we're trying to make the playoffs."
The tiebreaker in a 3-team scenario defaults to points allowed in the games between the three tied teams. Crestwood has given up 10 points, that coming in a 20-10 victory over Orangeburg-Wilkinson last week. Lakewood gave up 21 points in a 14-point loss to O-W. That means the Bruins have allowed 27 points.
Crestwood enters 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the region. The Knights are coming off back-to-back region wins over Dreher and Orangeburg-Wilkinson. The victory over O-W put the Knights in the driver's seat going to the final night of play.
"I think the guys are starting to peak and mature," said Nelson. "We only have eight seniors on the team, and we're starting seven sophomores on the defensive side of the ball. We're growing a little more, and we're not making those bone-headed mistakes that we made early on in the season."
The Knights have been led by junior running back Jaice Calderon the past two weeks. Calderon rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries in the win over O-W.
"Jaice had a good game, but you also gotta tip your hat to the offensive line," said Nelson. "They did a tremendous job of executing and staying on blocks and allowing him to have some good runs. At the same time, Jaice made all sorts of runs that were all on his own because he broke tackles and got down the field."
Nelson understands his team is going to get the Gators' best shot on Friday.
"We're expecting their best shot on Friday," said Nelson. "They're a team that definitely has the ability to beat us if we don't go out and execute and play well. I think their coaching staff is doing a good job of getting those guys ready to play."
The win over Dreher was Lakewood's first region victory since the 2015 season as it snapped a 20-game region losing streak.
"We've been close in region play in most of our games," said Cornelius. "Obviously we were in a must-win situation (last week). I thought we played well enough to win against O-W and LR (a 40-35 loss),and we just came up short. So we knew we had to win against Dreher and then try to take care of business this Friday."
Quarterback Cody Windham helped the Gators get out to their big lead against the Blue Devils. Windham finished 12 of 13 for 116 yards and two touchdowns through the air and added 121 yards on the ground along with two rushing touchdowns.
"Cody has done a good job all year long for us," said Cornelius. "We always joke around with him that he can't run, and I guess he took it to heart. They were taking away our running backs and man, he did a great job. He showed a little bit of speed and a lot of toughness."
Cornelius knows how big of a game this is for both of these programs, and expects Crolley Stadium to be rocking come kickoff.
"The coaches are going to have them well prepared," said Cornelius. "They are going to come out with a lot of fire. It's their last home game, and it's their senior night. If I were a fan, that would be the game I would go to. I think there is going to be a lot of fireworks. It's going to be a fun game to watch, but it's a stressful game to coach."
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