"We’ve had a lot of running clocks in the fourth quarter. So you never know how a team is going to react when adversity hits, but I have a lot of faith in this team," Lakeland coach Bill Castle said.
Take a look at Lakeland’s final scores this season. The Dreadnaughts creamed Cooper City 55-7, gobbled up Gibbs 58-0 and beat down Bartow 57-0. And that is just a sampling of their 2018 dominance.
But as they enter the FHSAA Class 7A state championship against the seventh-ranked team in the country, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, the Dreadnaughts know they really haven’t faced a situation where they had to play from behind this season. And though they have a two-minute offense rehearsed on the practice field and tucked away in the playbook, it’s never been hauled out in a pressure situation.
That could change Friday night when the two super-powers square off in Camping World Stadium. So I brought it up to Lakeland head coach Bill Castle this week.
“Early in games, we had a couple where we came back. But down the stretch, you’re right, we’ve had a lot of running clocks in the fourth quarter," Castle said. "So you never know how a team is going to react when adversity hits, but I have a lot of faith in this team. They have a lot of heart, and they are real close to each other. The main thing is they are unselfish, they play their assignments.”
Lakeland also toppled Tarpon Springs East Lake 42-6 and jumped over George Jenkins 42-0 this year.
If the Dreadnaughts find themselves trailing the Raiders late in the game, they do have quality go-to receivers who are more than capable of pulling a win out in the closing seconds. Senior Keon Zipperer is the top-ranked H-back tight end in the country, according to ESPN 300, but has only caught 12 passes for 256 yards this year. And none has come with the game on the line in the closing minute.
“We haven’t really had to do it in a game situation because we always ran up the scoreboard. So, if that ever comes to that point, we just have to do what we do and execute,” Zipperer said.
Lakeland has five players on its current roster who played for Lake Gibson when it battled with another nationally ranked top-10 team, Miami Carol City, two years ago in the 6A state title game. Carol City won 14-6, and the undefeated Braves were forced to make some late fourth-quarter desperation drives with the ball in the air on several plays.
Lakeland’s leading receiver, senior Chris Howard, who has 19 catches for 384 yards, played in that game, and he remembers it well. He said the Dreadnaughts are fully prepared to break out into a two-minute drill if the situation demands.
“Coming into this game, I am real comfortable. I am ready, really ready. We came up short my sophomore year. I am going to play it like a regular game. But I play every game like it is my last. I feel like if everyone comes in and does their assignment, everything should be good,” Howard said.
Lakeland also whipped Winter Haven 48-3 and Wiregrass Ranch 43-7.
Lakeland senior guard and tackle Deyavie Hammond also knows if the Dreadnaughts’ line opens up holes for star running back Demarkcus Bowman, a two-minute offense will be something Aquinas will have to dust off from their playbook.
“We just have to play Lakeland football and show everybody that we can win and bring one back to Lakeland,” Hammond said. “I definitely feel like they are going to underestimate us. We just have to go out there and hit them in the mouth at the first snap and show them we can make some holes for (Bowman). All he needs is a small crease.
“We know it is going to be a four-quarter game and they are not going to slow down and we are not going to slow down. We have to show them they are human, too. Nothing matters when you line up head-to-head.”
Lakleland also crunched Kathleen 50-0, sunk South Broward 58-0 and ended Edgewater’s season 56-21.
Maybe the Dreadnaughts won't need a two-minute offense.
Bill Kemp can be reached at Bill.Kemp@theledger.com; follow him on Twitter @BillKempSports.