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Lakewood faces tall task on road against undefeated Myrtle Beach

By J. SCOTT SEWELL
jscott@theitem.com
Posted 11/6/19

Lakewood High School's varsity football team will attempt to do something no other Lakewood football team has ever done when it takes the field against Myrtle Beach on Friday - win a playoff game.

LHS will travel to Myrtle Beach on Friday to take …

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Lakewood faces tall task on road against undefeated Myrtle Beach

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Lakewood High School's varsity football team will attempt to do something no other Lakewood football team has ever done when it takes the field against Myrtle Beach on Friday - win a playoff game.

LHS will travel to Myrtle Beach on Friday to take on the Seahawks, the defending 4A state champions, at Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium beginning at 7:30 p.m.

The Gators have made the football playoffs nine times in their brief history, losing all nine contests. They last made the playoffs in 2014, losing to Hanahan 42-12 in the first round.

Lakewood won its final two games this season, allowing it to sneak into the playoffs past Sumter School District rival Crestwood. The Gators improved their overall record to 4-6 while finishing 2-3 in Region IV.

"It's obviously huge," said Lakewood head coach Larry Cornelius. "It's been several years since Lakewood made the playoffs. We would've liked to have gotten a higher seed, but we didn't take care of business in our first three region games. At the very least, we got in, and we'll go out and see what we can do."

The Gators earned the fourth seed in Region IV, and had the unfortunate luck of drawing top-ranked and undefeated Myrtle Beach in the first round. The Seahawks enter the contest with a perfect 9-0 record behind the imposing arm of South Carolina commitment Luke Doty and wide receiver Darius Hough.

"We got a tough draw obviously with Myrtle Beach," said Cornelius. "There's a reason why they're the No. 1 ranked team in the state. They have great players on both sides of the ball and on special teams. But, you know, that's why you play the games and anything can happen on Friday night. That's why I love high school football."

No one has found a way to slow down Myrtle Beach's high-powered offense yet. The Seahawks scored a season-low 35 points in their 35-14 win over North Myrtle Beach last week Meanwhile, Lakewood has scored 35 points just three times this season.

"Offensively, they're electric," said Cornelius. "They have several (NCAA) D(ivision) I commits. They've been able to throw the ball around all year, and their quarterback is a dual threat that can take off and run on you as well.

"Their team speed on defense is unreal. So we have to be very disciplined on both sides of the ball and just play fundamental football and see how it plays out."

The Gators know they'll need to play a complete game on Friday if they hope to pull off the upset.

"They have a great front four," said Cornelius. "We have to be balanced on offense; a lot of people look at our offensive line and think we can run the ball at will, but that's really not the case. We have a really good quarterback in Cody Windham, and he makes good decisions with the football."

The Gators have relied on that balance throughout the year to help them breakout in their four wins. Two weeks ago, Lakewood amassed over 300 yards on the ground in their 54-7 victory over Dreher while also throwing for a pair of touchdown passes.

"For a team like Myrtle Beach, as good as their defense is, you have to do your best to look to your matchups, and be diversified in your play calls," said Cornelius.

Defensively, Lakewood will look to reigning The Sumter Item Defensive Player of the Week Amari Martin to provide the kind of timely defense he did in last Friday's 20-7 victory over Crestwood. The linebacker racked up nine tackles and secured a key interception that he returned 70 yards for a touchdown late in the game, providing Lakewood the point differential it needed to surpass Crestwood in the battle for the playoff berth.

"It's not just Friday. Amari has been a staple in this program since I got here," said Cornelius. "He's what we want out of a Lakewood student; just really good grades and a great work ethic. He's been a really good inside linebacker for the last two years."