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When Lakewood High School kicked off its first drive in its football game against Lake City on Friday at J. Frank Baker Stadium, the Gators looked like they were in for a solid ball game. They drove the ball into the red zone, but came up a yard shy on fourth down and seven yards to go, handing the ball back to Lake City at the 7-yard line.
It was all downhill from there.
Lake City needed just two plays after the turnover to go 93 yards. 89 of those yards came on a single run from Avery Harrison, which ended in a trip to the end zone.He took the ball on the left side, made a couple of cuts and was gone. Lakewood was never able to recover.
The Panthers went on to a 28-8 victory.
The Gators were solid for most of the night, but every Lake City drive seemed to have one or two miscues from Lakewood.
"We shot ourselves in the foot," said Lakewood head coach Larry Cornelius after the game. "I'm not taking anything away from Lake City, (head) Coach (Ronnie Baker) is doing a great job over there, but we have one little issue and it kinda screws everything up and they're just trying to overcome it.
"We'd have two good plays in a row and then give up a big third and long," continued Cornelius. "We gave up two huge plays in the first half on the defensive side with that 89-yard touchdown and they hit one right over middle on us. That didn't result in a score, but each time they pick up a big first down, that takes away from momentum and it takes a possible possession away."
The Gators forced a punt on Lake City's next drive, but fumbled the ensuing kick at the 8, giving the ball right back to the Panthers. Lakewood caught a break, as a touchdown run from Cleadius Alson was called back on a hold. A big sack by Kyliek Baxter put Lake City all the way back at the 42, before Zayvion Wells, who fumbled the punt, snagged an interception at the 10 and returned it to the 29 to end the Panther threat. Unfortunately, Lakewood couldn't do anything with the momentum.
The first quarter ended with Lakewood trailing 7-0, but penalties doomed the Gator defense in the second. Lakewood jumped on a Lake City fourth down, giving the Panthers a fresh set of downs. Lake City then got a clutch fourth-down catch by KJ Rose for another first, before ShaQuan Epps caught a 19-yard touchdown to give the Panthers a 14-0 lead just before the end of the half. Lake City carried that 14-0 lead into the break.
Penalties continued to hurt Lakewood after halftime. The Gators were called for a late hit after Lake City fell a yard short on third down, giving the Panthers a free first. Lake City then ate up clock working its way down the field. Hilshon Bailey eventually hit Rose for a 2-yard score to put Lakewood in a 21-0 hold midway through the third.
The Gator offense finally found some life on the ensuing drive. Lakewood ripped off first down after first down and finally caught a break. After four straight first downs, the Gators got a freebie. They were lined up for a third and long, needing 17 yards for a first down. Cody Windham's pass into the back of the end zone was a touch long, but he was hit late by Lake City, giving the Gators a first down at the 12. James Wright took it from there, running right up the middle out of the wildcat formation for a touchdown. Lakewood punched in the 2-point conversion to bring the score to 21-8
That Lakewood momentum didn't last long though, as Lake City returned the ensuing kickoff to the 50. The Panthers didn't score on the drive, but they were able to pin Lakewood at its 2 on the punt. The following drive was cut short as Jakiem Herring snagged a Windham pass and took it to the house for a pick-six. The touchdown gave Lake City a 28-8 lead.
Offensively, Cornelius saw some good things, but Lakewood just couldn't put together a complete drive until late in the third quarter when they scored their lone touchdown.
"We just could never get it going offensively. We couldn't put a complete drive together," said the head coach. "We did some good things, but those little silly things, that's going to cost you touchdowns."
While Lakewood made some key mistakes this week, they're fixable mistakes. Cornelius knows that's what early games are all about.
"It's not like we're just hanging our hats up and going to the next season. This is what the first couple of games are about," said the head coach. "Right now, going into the third game, losing two winnable games, it's mentality. You're having two issues that you're dealing with, it's the mental aspect and cleaning up the physical part."
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