ST. PETERSBURG — On Friday, Lakewood had its back against the wall, needing to beat Bradenton Southeast to keep its playoff hopes alive.
And in the second half, the Spartan defenders had their backs against the goal line, needing to stop the Seminoles on fourth and inches.
Not once, but twice.
Lakewood prevailed both times, which proved key in a 20-9 victory. The Spartans (7-2, 4-1) will host a three-way tiebreaker with Southeast and Northeast for first and second place in Class 4A, District 9 on Monday at 7.
"The defense knew they had to step up," Lakewood coach Cory Moore said. "They certainly did that tonight."
In the first half, the Spartans jumped ahead thanks to some big plays.
The first came when Jacquez Jenkins hit Victor Perkins on a 55-yard touchdown. On the next possession, Burness Griffin stepped in front of a pass and took the interception 90 yards for a score to make it 14-0 Lakewood.
The Spartans added another touchdown before the half on a 32-yard pass from Jenkins to Bernard Reedy to put them ahead 20-0 at the half. The lead was preserved, at least for a moment, on the first goal-line stand. Lakewood dug in at the 1-yard line and leveled a Southeast running back for no gain.
Then the Seminoles started scoring as Jonathan Dowling returned an interception 30 yards and defense tackled a Spartans runner in the end zone for a safety.
Suddenly, a game that appeared to be a rout took on another look.
Southeast (7-2, 4-1) drove the ball in the fourth quarter and threatened to tack on another score. But the Seminoles ran around the left end on fourth and inches and were met by a wall of Lakewood pads for no gain.
"Those two stands were probably the turning point of the game," Spartans linebacker Vauchard Goodridge said.
"We knew, as a defense, we were going to have to come up with some big plays and we did."