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ST. PETERSBURG — Lakewood has spent the first half of the season scoring at will. But at halftime of its rivalry game against Gibbs on Friday, the Spartans found themselves in a scoreless tie.
Lakewood coach Cory Moore decided to push the reset button. He told his team to forget about the first half, relax and take the opening possession in for a touchdown. The defense, which has been dominant all season, would take over from there.
The Spartans listened, scoring on a 13-play, 57-yard drive to open the third quarter and the defense continued to stifle the Gladiators en route to a 16-0 win. The Spartans (5-0, 4-0) stay on top of Class 5A-8.
“Our offense sputtered, mainly because our guys put too much pressure on themselves,” Moore said. “It’s a crosstown rivalry, but they just had to relax. Once we scored, then they settled down.”
Lakewood stumbled through the first half with costly penalties and some dropped passes. The Spartans had 10 penalties for 79 yard in the half. Gibbs (2-3, 2-2) gave them a scare on the opening drive when it got to the 8-yard line thanks to a 44-yard run by Adrian Johnson.
But the Lakewood defense held on fourth and goal from the 10.
To start the third quarter, Lakewood converted a fourth-and-3 on a 7-yard run by Rodney Adams. Then on third and goal from the 5, quarterback Tracy Johnson hit Jocqui Ellison in the corner of the end zone for the first score.
“We had a little pep talk in the locker room,” Ellison said. “That first touchdown was huge. If we can get a touchdown, then our defense can take over.”
After another Gibbs punt, Lakewood drove to the Gibbs 20. But Johnson fumbled and gave Gibbs some life. Then the Gladiators gave the ball right back on a Shaquill Griffin interception of a Patric Jones pass.
Lakewood made it hurt when Malcolm Ervin plowed in from 14 yards out to give the Spartans a 14-0 lead.
Any chance of a comeback ended with three minutes left when Gary Sherman Jr. blocked a punt that sailed out of the end zone for a safety.
Lakewood has outscored opponents 200-9 and has allowed only one touchdown, late in the fourth quarter against Dunedin.
“Our goal is to just give the offense the ball back,” Griffin said. “We need to do whatever it takes. We try to give up zero points every game.”
Gibbs was playing without running back Quincy Turner, who sprained an ankle last week against Dunedin. And wide receiver/linebacker Zacari Gibbons was suspended for breaking a team rule.
Still, Gibbs coach Antonio Knox felt his team had a chance.
“You can’t get inside the red zone three times and not get anything,” Knox said. “That’s what I was telling our guys, you have to finish.
“We couldn’t finish.”