South Sumter has won 12 straight games and 23 of its last 24. The Raiders have been a fixture in the playoffs since 2007. Lakewood, meanwhile, has never advanced to a region final.
Clearly, the Spartans will be big underdogs Friday, and coach Cory Moore is using that to motivate his team.
“I told the guys, ‘How can we beat a team like South Sumter? Let’s be honest, why are we even showing up?,’ ” Moore said. “They gave me a blank look. But then I said, ‘Hey, football is a crazy game. If Florida can lose to Georgia Southern, then we can beat South Sumter.’ ”
A Lakewood win may not be as shocking as Florida losing to Georgia Southern, but history is not on the Spartans’ side. They are 5-12 all time in playoff games despite fielding teams with future NFL players. Moore hopes to change people’s perception of his team.
“I can see why people think that,’’ Moore said. “Lakewood hasn’t been this far. We haven’t won the games we should have. We’re not looked upon as a team that can go all the way. But this team is different than any team I’ve ever had.’’
Rise and shine
To break up the monotony of its everyday routine, East Lake held Wednesday’s practice before dawn.
The lights were turned on at the football field for the 5:30 a.m. start. The idea for the early-morning session came from star receiver Artavis Scott.
“I saw Lakewood did a morning practice earlier this year, and that seemed like a fun thing to do,” Scott said.
East Lake coach Bob Hudson decided to have it this week because the players were off for Thanksgiving. The team had to battle a few obstacles, such as practicing through a heavy rainstorm that lasted about 20 minutes and a brief power outage.
“The power outage was fine because the sun started coming up at that time,” offensive lineman Mason Cole said. “I think Coach was more worried about us practicing in the rain and destroying the field, but it was okay.”
Afterward, the team went to IHOP for a team breakfast.
The next step
East Lake enters its third straight region final as a heavy favorite, with Joe Pinkos predicting a 21-point Eagles victory.
It is an unfamiliar role considering East Lake wasn’t favored in its previous two region final games — against Plant in 2011 and Orlando Dr. Phillips last year.
The Eagles have the edge against Port Charlotte in playoff experience. The Eagles are in their ninth postseason game in three years. The Pirates, meanwhile, are in the playoffs for just the second time in the 11 years.
As an assistant coach with the U.S. under-19 national team in 2012, Moore befriended former Florida State quarterback and 1993 Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward. Ward was also an assistant coach for Team USA.
Moore said he has been in touch with Ward ever since, especially during football season. Ward is now a high school football coach at Westbury Christian in Houston.
“I talk to him every week before we have a game,’’ Moore said. “We talk about the game and he texts me throughout the week. He kind of gives me advice and ideas.”
There is a good possibility that any Lakewood run to a state title will require beating three unbeaten (currently 12-0) teams.
First up, South Sumter.
In the state semifinal, Pensacola Catholic is a likely opponent.
And in the state final, either Merritt Island or Plantation American Heritage — who could meet in the other semifinal — may await.
Of the 10 undefeated teams left in the playoffs, four play in Class 5A.