LAKELAND — Billy Turner, just two weeks after his 71st birthday, woke up Friday thinking this might be the day he coached his final high school football game.
The longtime Chamberlain coach had his best chance at a Class 5A state title this season, but he knew all too well how punishing a trip to national power Lakeland could be. Friday's region final at Bryant Stadium was the fourth time this decade Chamberlain's playoff path went through Lakeland.
And for a fourth time — and maybe the last for Turner, who is unsure whether he will return for a 31st season at Chamberlain — the season ended at the hands of the Dreadnaughts in a 40-20 loss.
"The sad part is I think they made a good football team look bad because I think we're a good football team," Turner said. "They pounded us. I wasn't even out there and it felt like somebody ran over me with a truck."
The Dreadnaughts came into the game with an undefeated record and No. 8 national ranking, but after not making state last year after three straight titles, the word was that Lakeland was having an off year.
"Lakeland ain't as good as they used to be? Who said that?" Turner said. "I hope I didn't say it because they're as good as they ever were."
Chamberlain (11-2), which relied on its offensive big-play ability, fell victim to Lakeland's offensive surge. The Dreadnaughts (13-0) took a 21-0 lead just 18 minutes into the game. Lakeland had four plays of 20 or more yards on its first three scoring drives.
"Our plan was to stop them in the beginning and keep running the ball down their throats," said Lakeland junior running back Rodney Watson, who scored two touchdowns and 73 rushing yards.
Chiefs senior quarterback Dontae Aycock rallied the Chiefs late, throwing for one fourth-quarter touchdown and running for another, but he managed just 59 yards rushing and 55 yards passing for the game.
As for Turner, whose season ended three wins short of that first elusive state title, he said he will wait until after the holidays to make a decision on his future.
"I've got a lot of respect for Coach Turner," longtime Lakeland coach Bill Castle said.
"It's always great to beat Billy because you know you've beaten a good football team and a well-coached football team."