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Gators run over Manning en route to first win

Tim Leible
tim@theitem.com
Posted 9/8/19

Lakewood and Manning had to wait an extra day to face off thanks to hurricane Dorian, but it was worth the wait for the Gators. Manning struck first with a 64-yard touchdown on their first offensive play, but after that it was all Lakewood in the Gators’ 33-14 victory on Saturday night.

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Gators run over Manning en route to first win

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Lakewood and Manning had to wait an extra day to face off in their high school football game thanks to Hurricane Dorian, but it was worth the wait for the Gators.

Manning struck first with a 64-yard touchdown on their first offensive play, but after that it was all Lakewood in the Gators’ 33-14 victory on Saturday at J. Frank Baker Stadium.

“This was a must-win for our mentality,” said Lakewood head coach Larry Cornelius, whose team improved to 1-2 on the season. “It’s not a must-win, obviously, for region play or anything like that, but just for our mentality because we’re playing better than it was showing on the scoreboard.”

Lakewood couldn’t find its feet out of the gate, quickly punting before Manning running back Irvin Mares found a seam and ran 64 yards for a touchdown. That marked the second straight week Lakewood allowed a touchdown of more than 60 yards within its first two defensive plays of the game. The Gators responded much better the second time around though.

The ensuing drive was highlighted by big runs by Jeffery Lawson and Javontae Lewis. A huge third-down catch by Kameron Rodriguez kept the drive alive before James Wright punched in a short run on fourth down and goal. The point after was no good so Lakewood still trailed 7-6.

After the home run on the first drive, Manning couldn’t find its footing offensively. The Monarchs were without starting quarterback Corey Graham due to injury, so running back Caleb Wright was shifted to quarterback. Lakewood was able to key in on the run and Manning struggled to find any room to run.

Lakewood, meanwhile, kept pounding the rock offensively. Manning also gave it breaks all evening long, committing several third- or fourth-down penalties for free Gator first downs. The score remained 7-6 heading into the second quarter, but the Gators were primed to take the lead as soon as the second quarter opened.

Lakewood worked its way all the way down to the Manning 6, but a fumble by Lewis ended the drive in its tracks. While the Monarchs caught a break, they were backed up against their own end zone. After penalties backed them up to the 2, an errant snap went out of the back of the end zone for a safety, giving Lakewood the lead 8-7. It was a lead the Gators would never surrender.

The Gator running game just kept pounding away on the ensuing drive, chipping away at the Manning defense and eating up clock. Lakewood held onto the ball for a full seven minutes of the quarter after the safety, before Lawson finally found pay dirt with a short touchdown. Lakewood couldn’t convert on the 2-point conversion, but still extended its lead to 14-7.

The Gators kept Manning on its toes with an onside kick. Lakewood managed to recover, but couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity. The Gators went into halftime with a 14-7 lead.

Lakewood continued to gamble on special teams to open the second half as it again did and onside kick and it again recovered. However, just like they did at the end of the first half, the Gators couldn’t get their offense going and punted after three plays. Manning had similar luck offensively, punting after three plays on the following drive.

The Gators started to find their offensive rhythm after that, but were given another break by Manning, as the Monarchs jumped offsides on a fourth and one to give Lakewood a fresh set of downs. The Gators took advantage of the break, eventually converting on a 3-yard score by Lawson. The extra point put them out in front 21-7.

The issues continued to pile up for Manning on the ensuing drive, as Caleb Wright coughed it up a minute after the touchdown. Lakewood was able to jump on top of the fumble and got all the way to the Monarch 1 as the third quarter came to an end. The fourth started with the Gators staring down a fourth and goal from the one, but James Wright was able to punch it in for his second score of the game. The point after was no good, but the Gators were cruising with a 27-7 lead.

The Manning offense finally found some life in the fourth, but it was too little, too late. Caleb Wright was able to find Marquise Cubit for his first completion of the game down the sideline, which sparked a touchdown drive that was capped off by Mares at the goal line to bring the score to 27-14.

The Monarch comeback was quickly stifled, as Lakewood found the end zone again in a hurry. First, Tilmon Vaughn caught a ball on the sideline and dodged a few defenders on the way to a 35-yard gain. Cody Windham then found Amari Martin on a short pass on fourth down. Martin did the rest, as he went 33 yards for a touchdown.

The Gators absolutely dominated the game on the ground with 246 rushing yards in the win. Lawson led the way with 105 yards and two touchdowns, James Wright added 41 yards and a pair of scores, Kori Green chipped in with 10 carries for 63 yards and Lewis tacked on another 38. Cornelius was thrilled with the performance on the ground.

“To be honest, we made some changes,” said Cornelius. “We brought a kid up from JV (junior varsity) in Kori Green, moved James Wright out to receiver, because we have so many good backs, so we could move James, get him somewhere else on the field at wide receiver. Javontae Lewis and, of course, our leader Jeffery Lawson, those guys did a heck of a job running that ball. Of course, if it’s not for the line, it doesn’t matter.”

Lakewood also had a strong game through the air. Windham finished 9-for-15 for 148 yards and a score. Rodriguez led the way with two catches for 69 yards, Vaughn had two catches for 36 and Martin had two catches for 40 yards to go along with a touchdown.

Manning knew it was coming into Saturday behind the 8 ball. The weather affected its ability to practice effectively all week, which is bad enough under normal circumstances. On top of that, the Monarchs were trying to get Caleb Wright up to speed at quarterback. That limited their playbook a little bit and hurt the Monarchs’ ability to settle in offensively.

“It definitely affected our game plan,” said head Manning head coach Reggie Kennedy, whose team is also 1-2. “We were kind of handcuffed for passing the football. Especially this week because we had a short week with the storm, we didn’t really get to practice except for two days this week with him at quarterback. Hopefully we can continue to develop him and be a little more balanced on offense.”

One of Manning’s biggest issues in the loss was penalties. The Gators repeatedly jumped on third or fourth downs, giving Lakewood free first downs.

“We just have to get off the field on third down. We didn’t do a good job tonight of getting off the field on third down. That kind of extended drives and wore us down. I think we got a little frustrated during the game. When they keep laying on you and putting drives together, it can kind of start effecting you mentally. We’re going to learn from it though.”

Lakewood will hit the road for the first time season as it travels to Sumter on Friday. Manning will play host to Crestwood.