Early in Lakewood's season, when the offense was trying to find a rhythm, the Spartans' defense was steady. In the middle of the season, when the offense was scoring in bunches, the defense stayed consistent. • In last week's region semifinal against Tarpon Springs, with the offense sputtering early, the defense held the Spongers to six first-half points. • Through all of the offense's inconsistencies, Lakewood's defense has not wavered. • The Spartans have given up only 12 points per game heading into Friday's Class 5A region final against South Sumter. • "The offense is catching up with the defense," coach Cory Moore said. "The offense is all about timing and coming together. The defense, they hit people. They hold us together. They've put us in good situations this season. • "You're not going to score too many points on those guys. Our defense is unbelievable."
The most points Lakewood has given up this season was 23 in a Nov. 1 loss to Jacksonville Raines. The Spartans have two shutouts and held a very good Palmetto team to 13 points.
"Every game we have a chip on our shoulders," safety Brujoun Bonner said. "The offense gets a lot of attention but our defense is pretty good."
Part of the reason for the defensive success is depth. Lakewood does not have players who play on both sides of the ball. Fatigue becomes less of a factor.
"We don't have any two-way guys — not one," Moore said. "We can have an offensive practice, and the entire defense is in watching film. And then we switch."
There is also a load of talent on defense.
Bonner has been a shutdown safety when facing opponents' best receivers.
"I've only been caught on once this year," said Bonner, who has eight interceptions. "Dunedin caught one, but that wasn't even my fault. It was a busted coverage. Teams may throw it my way but it gets picked off."
Patric Jones transferred from Gibbs and has settled in at linebacker. Oshario Mitchell has also been solid at linebacker. The secondary, with Bonner, Tyrell Hubbard-Smith, Chris Jackson, Aaron Graham and James Swain, has frustrated quarterbacks all season.
"We all have a lot of trust in each other," Jones said. "We know we have the players in place to make plays."
On the defensive line, 420-pounder Nyquel Alexander was moved from the offensive line early in the season. And junior lineman Jordan Edwards has been just about unstoppable, with 24 sacks in 12 games.
"I just follow what the coaches tell me," said the soft-spoken Edwards. "I just watch the ball and (play) disciplined."
That discipline will be tested against South Sumter. The Raiders run a fast-paced, no-huddle offense that emphasizes the run. They average nearly 45 points per game, more than any team the Spartans have faced.
No problem, according to Moore.
"I don't think South Sumter is better than Jacksonville Raines," Moore said. "I don't think they're better than Booker T. (Washington). Or Palmetto. And St. Petersburg was a good running team. Tarpon Springs had a darn good running back (Michael Ford). We faced these running teams all year long. We're right where we want to be."
Rodney Page can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @RodneyHomeTeam.