GREEN COVE SPRINGS — When Lakewood struggled this season it was because the offense couldn't figure out how to move down the field. But Friday night in the Class 5A state semifinal against Green Cove Springs Clay, the Spartans played an atypical game.
Their offense moved mostly at will, but the defense could not figure out how to stop the Blue Devils' multi-faceted running attack. Clay amassed 456 rushing yards and wore out the Spartans in a 40-38 shootout style win.
Clay (10-4) will play Friday for the state championship against Plantation American Heritage. Lakewood ends the best season in school history at 10-4.
"They just kept hitting the gaps and we couldn't stop them at the line of scrimmage," Lakewood safety Brujoun Bonner said. "They are a team that runs very hard."
The Spartans stopped Clay on only three possessions. All of those stops were in the first half, including a fumble on the third play from scrimmage.
Clay, which won its previous two playoff games on the last play from scrimmage, scored three times in the second half. Still, Lakewood had a chance in the final two minutes.
Trailing 40-32 with four minutes left, Lakewood got the ball at its 36. After a holding penalty made it first and 20, quarterback Ryan Davis hit Andrew Davis on a 36-yard pass to the Clay 12-yard line.
Davis was sacked on second down but ran up the middle on third down from 15 yards out to make it 40-38. Lakewood tried a two-point conversion with a direct snap to Jocqui Ellison. Ellison got wrapped up near the 5-yard line and floated a pass that was intercepted. Lakewood could not stop Clay in the final two minutes.
"Joc had an option to run or pass," Lakewood coach Cory Moore said. "They got on him really fast."
Extra points hurt Lakewood. The Spartans missed two extra point kicks and three two-point conversion tries.
Early on it looked like extra points wouldn't play a role. The Spartans gave up a 63-yard touchdown run by Clay quarterback Wes Weeks in the first quarter but came back with a 13-yard TD run by Romello Presely.
Then came a 5-yard scoring run by Donterio Fowler and a 26-yard run by Ryan Davis that made it 20-7 Lakewood midway through the second. In between, Lakewood's defense forced two punts.
But Clay ended the half with a 35-yard pass from Weeks to Bilal Ally on fourth and 10 that included two missed tackles, and a 13-yard run by J.T. Taylor. A missed extra point made it 20-20 at the half.
Davis started the third with a 69-yard bomb to a wide-open Tyrae Boykins that made it 26-20.
"I knew all I had to do was catch it," Boykins said. "Our offense was clicking all night. We've been clicking at the end of the season."
Ally tied it at 26 with a 5-yard run. Clay's two-point attempt failed. And after a Lakewood punt, the Blue Devils put together a 12-play drive that ended with an 18-yard run by Ally early in the fourth.
A Davis touchdown run of 54 yards was matched by a 3-yard run by Ally that made it 40-32.
"It was one of those nights where the defense got a little worn down," Moore said. "At times the defense held us all year long, and I think we should have scored more points. I can't complain. Yes, you want to win a state championship, but the whole ride this year, I'm happy for our team."
Weeks led Clay with 188 rushing yards on 20 attempts. Ally added 121 yards. Davis had 117 yards rushing and 159 passing. Fowler had 82 yards and a touchdown.