The Lakewood High School football team is set to open Region IV-4A play on Friday when they host Orangeburg-Wilkinson at J. Frank Baker Stadium.
The Gators are playing at home for the first time since they beat Manning 33-14 on Sept. …
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The Gators are playing at home for the first time since they beat Manning 33-14 on Sept. 7.
Lakewood enters the game 2-2 on the season, while the Bruins stand at 4-1. O-W has outscored its opponents 163-57, making them one of the early contenders to win the region. Lakewood will play the other contender, defending region champion A.C. Flora, next week.
"That bye week was important as far as getting well rested and re-energized as we go into region play," said Lakewood head coach Larry Cornelius. "The next two teams are probably the two toughest in the region, but, of course, we're focused on O-W right now, not A.C. Flora."
After watching film of the Bruins this week, Cornelius sees O-W as one of the best teams in the state.
"They are well deserving of a top 10 ranking in the state," said Cornelius though the Bruins aren't ranked among 4A schools in the S.C. Prep Media Football Poll. "They are pretty complete. They have some really tall receivers, some basketball players out there, and a quarterback that can get the ball to them."
The Lakewood secondary's ability to limit the Bruins' passing game will go a long way in determining who comes out on top.
"We don't have the tallest defensive backs out there, so those 50-50 balls are a concern," said Cornelius. "We have to do some things in our coverage to help some of our younger or shorter guys out."
The Gators are coming off their most decisive victory of the season when they beat Hemingway 44-7 before their bye week.
"It was big," said Cornelius. "That's a game we should've won and should've won by several touchdowns. It was important for us to not just get a win, but to get a convincing win. That's just something we needed."
The extra week of preparation has given the Gators' offense more time to focus on some of the little things as it gets ready to face one of the top defensive units in the region.
"Offensively, we're looking at the possibility of running another lineman in there," said Cornelius. "They probably have the best (defensive) front we've seen this year with the exception of Sumter. That's going to pose a big, big challenge for us. It's going to be a numbers game, to see how many they put in the box, and that's going to dictate what we do."
That means the Lakewood game plan is going to rest on the success of their big, talented offensive line. It's a unit that's helped the team averaging over five yards per carry so far this year.
"Overall, I've been happy with the line, but there are tweaks we needed to make, and we'll see how those tweaks work on Friday night. We do have a big offensive line, and I think we've done a good job with our run game so far this year. I feel like we just need to get a little bit more balanced. There's been some opportunities that we haven't connected on yet in our passing game, but hopefully it all comes together for region play."
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