The Lakewood Leopards varsity football team got back on track Friday night, defeating the Spring Creek Gators 29-0, posting their second shutout win this season and second in four games.
Lakewood’s defense stifled the Gators all night, forcing three fumbles while recovering two of them, and even picking off a pass on an acrobatic catch read the whole way by Bryce Tanner.
Lakewood got on the board on Spring Creek’s very first drive after a high snap by Spring Creek sent the ball flying over the Gators’ punter head on a fourth-and-5 deep in their own territory and bouncing out of the back of the end zone, resulting in a safety, and making the score 2-0.
The Leopards took full advantage of receiving the ensuing kickoff and used the momentum that carried over from the safety, scoring on a drive that started deep in Gator territory at the 27-yard line, thanks to a phenomenal return by Dre Oates. On a third-and-19, Lakewood knew they had to pass the ball if they wanted a shot at a first down. Quarterback Zach Tanner dropped back in the pocket and found a streaking Carsell Bennett in the middle of the field, and Bennett took it to the house for a 35-yard touchdown, the first touchdown of the night. However, the extra point was missed, and the score was 8-0.
Lakewood took full control of the game after that, intercepting the Gators at the Spring Creek 36. This interception proved worthy for the Leopards, as star running back Oates plowed over several defenders for a touchdown. Oates was unstoppable on the play, running over anyone in his path as he had his eyes set on six points. This time the extra point was successful, and Lakewood led 15-0.
Spring Creek appeared to have fixed their miscues after that Lakewood touchdown and started to get some offense going, marching all the way to the Lakewood 17, but this drive was ended after the Gators fumbled and gave the ball right back to the Leopards with a little less than 11 minutes remaining in the first half. However, Lakewood failed to take advantage of this fumble, and the scored stayed the same.
Lakewood would not score again until 10:43 in the third quarter off a scoop-and-score from Luke Brewer. Brewer ran it back 33 yards and pushed the Leopards lead to 22-0 after a successful extra point, gradually diminishing the Gators’ chances of making a comeback.
The last touchdown of the night came on a beautiful 25-yard pass from Tanner to William Peete with 4:20 left to go in the third quarter. Prior to that toss, it had been a very frustrating night for the passing game. Several throws were just barely tipped and knocked away by the defenders on what would have been catches, and one touchdown was called back after a flag. Tanner, had 64 yards passing on two completions, threw a very well-thrown ball right where only Peete could catch it, and he did just that, extending the lead to 29 points after a successful extra point.
The game got chippy the play before that touchdown, though, and it resulted in an unsportsmanlike conduct handed down to each team. Tanner scrambled and ran out of bounds but was hit late by the Gators much to the displeasure of Tannerand his team. He got up and began sneering towards the Gator defense. Spring Creek players shoved Tanner, causing a minor scuffle.
Yet, the Leopards got the last laugh with Tanner’s pass to Peete on the very next play.
Spring Creek head coach Aaron Sanders heaped lots of credit on Lakewood’s defense for their stellar play Friday tonight, and credited them for stopping his high-powered offense.
“When we started getting some things established, we would create some penalties and turn the ball over that would kill some drives, and a lot of that had to do with Lakewood’s defense,” Sanders stated. Despite the loss, there were many bright spots for his team, and Sanders praised cornerback Javon Newsome and running back Jessie Casper.
“I think both of those guy played well and looked good,” Sanders said.
Lakewood head coach James Lewis, on the other hand, lauded his stout defense for their play, but admitted that his squad struggled offensively, something he looks forward to working on in practice ahead of next week’s game.
“We were just out of sync offensively, and when we got something going we would just shoot ourselves in the foot,” Lewis said. He praised his secondary for limiting the Gators high-powered passing attack, and was pleased at how his team finished.
Defensively, Luke Brewer paved the way for the Leopards, posting eight tackles and one fumble recovery. Tristen Hawks had eight tackles and two sacks, and Tristen Holmes had eight tackles and a sack. Offensively, Turner led the way in rushing with 50 yards, Carsell Bennett followed with 49 yards on 10 carries, and Oates was just behind with 31 yards on five carries. Bennett had 39 yards receiving and a touchdown, and Peete wound up with 25 yards and a touchdown.
For Spring Creek, quarterback Landon Smothers had five completions for 30 yards, and his favorite target was Nick Strickland, who had two receptions for 12 yards, closely followed by Najee Young with seven yards on one grab. As far as rushing goes, Jessie Casper had 65 yards on 17 rushes, and Javon Newsome ran for 51 yards on six rushes.
The Leopards’ record moves to 4-2 overall and 1-0 in the Carolina Conference. They play host to North Duplin on Friday at 7 p.m.