ST. PETERSBURG — To be clear, Friday’s Class 5A, District 8 game against Jesuit is not a must win for Lakewood. Win and the Spartans clinch nothing. Lose and there is still hope.
But, man, does Lakewood want to win this game.
For the past three years, ever since coach Cory Moore took over, the Spartans have been the “other’’ team in their district. The team good enough to slide into the playoffs, but not good enough to win the district.
Each year the nemesis has been a team from across the bay. In 2008, it was Bradenton Southeast. The past two years it has been Jefferson. And now, here comes Jesuit. Big, bad, undefeated-in-the-district Jesuit.
Time for the Spartans to make a statement.
“We’re going to see if we have a program over here,’’ Moore said. “We’re going to see if we belong with the big dogs.’’
Lakewood (6-0, 5-0) has certainly shown it belongs at the top of this district. The Spartans took care of business in the first part of their schedule, which included impressive wins over Blake, Dunedin and rival Gibbs as well as nail-biters over Seminole and Middleton.
In retrospect, those games were pop quizzes. Now comes the big test.
“We’re still considered the sleeper, and to us that’s fine,’’ Moore said. “We don’t have any control over that stuff. I do know the guys have enjoyed being undefeated. They’ve enjoyed people asking what their record was and saying ‘undefeated.’ ”
Jesuit (6-1, 6-0) opened its season with a 14-point loss to powerhouse Plant and hasn’t lost since — outscoring opponents 245-56.
The Tigers already have an impressive 21-7 win over district foe Robinson, which awaits Lakewood next week.
There is no need for Moore to sell his players on how important tonight is. There has been a buzz around campus all week.
“There’s a little more energy right now,’’ senior wide receiver/cornerback Javaris Little said. “This will set the tone for our district. It will show everyone that Lakewood is for real. We’re looking for a state championship and nothing less.’’
The game plan against the Tigers is simple: Be perfect.
“We can’t make mistakes,’’ senior wide receiver Tahrell Jones said. “Jesuit doesn’t make mistakes. You make a mistake against them and they capitalize. The way we look at it, (Jesuit) is going to make zero mistakes. We’ve got to be perfect as well.
“I’ll say this, I think we have more talent than them. They have talent, too, and they are disciplined with their talent. Everything is to the T.’’
If there has been a knock on the Spartans this season, it has been their tendency to play down to opponents. There was the head-scratching 15-12 win over winless Middleton. And last week’s win over 1-6 Lennard was actually close until the second half.
Which Lakewood team shows up Friday?
“In past games this season, we may have gotten in some trouble but then our talent got us through,’’ senior defensive lineman Denard Gainer said. “In this game, talent isn’t going to get us back in the game. We’ve got to start strong and stay strong.’’
The Jesuit game is not the be all, end all for Lakewood. But a win would certainly go a long way in erasing the memories of years past. Moore thinks he’s not only representing Lakewood on Friday, but the county.
“This would be a good win for the community,’’ Moore said. “It would be a good win for Pinellas County. We’ve got good coaches and good kids over here.’’