ST. PETERSBURG — Friday night’s battle of the Spartans had a bigger meaning for Lakewood.
The playoffs started two weeks early.
Lakewood desperately needed a win over Spoto — and help from Class 3A-8 rival Jefferson — to keep its postseason hopes alive.
A week after being upset by Blake, Lakewood took care of business, beating Spoto 28-22. And thanks to Jefferson’s win over Blake, the Spartans survived to be part of a three-team tiebreaker with Spoto and Blake to decide the district’s second region tournament qualifier.
“I think it shows that as a ball club if we just play as a team, don’t argue and don’t fight, that if we play together, things will go well for us,” Lakewood coach Cory Moore said. “We lose versus Blake because of us. (Against) Spoto tonight, we played together.”
Lakewood (5-4, 3-2) took advantage of four Spoto turnovers, but it was special teams play that proved to be the difference.
Lakewood senior Teddy West scored a pair of touchdowns on returns at the most pivotal times, a momentum-swiping 85-yard kickoff return in the first quarter right after Spoto went up 8-0 then a 45-yard punt return with 11:36 remaining in the game that proved to be the winning score.
“They made the plays down the stretch,” Spoto coach Dale Caparaso said. “We didn’t make the plays down the stretch. You’re not going to win a ball game against a decent team with four turnovers. ”
Spoto (6-4, 3-2) took an 8-7 lead into the half, but Lakewood’s Javaris Little intercepted Spoto quarterback Nick Addison on the first offensive play of the second half. Four plays later, quarterback Alphonso Evans’ 1-yard keeper gave Lakewood the lead.
But Addison drove Spoto 80 yards for a touchdown on the ensuing possession, and after recovering an onside kick Spoto running back Danny Taylor, who ran for a game-high 164 yards, scored on a 16-yard run to give Spoto a 22-14 lead.
The game then tilted on field position . Spoto’s next two drives sputtered at its 13-yard line. Lakewood used a short field to make it a one-point game 22-21 on Evans’ 24-yard strike to Jocqui Ellison then West made Spoto pay, taking a punt inside Spoto territory and speeding down the near sideline just beating a tackler to the pylon.
“He wasn’t starting on offense, but he didn’t pout,” Moore said. “He picked the other guys up and he led.”
Spoto couldn’t score on three final possessions, including one in which it had the ball at the Lakewood 6-yard line.