Friday, February 23, 2018
Sports

No trouble finding end zone for Tarpon, Lakewood

Tonight's Class 5A region semifinal between Tarpon Springs and Lakewood can be thought of more as a basketball game than a postseason football contest.

The Spongers (7-4) are going to score often. The Spartans (8-3) are going to score often.

There will be a blizzard of points, a barrage of big plays.

Defensive play is more appropriately measured in stops and turnovers. Every forced punt is a success. Keeping the score close gives either team a chance to win in the final seconds.

In the past month, no two teams in the county have put more points on the scoreboard than Tarpon Springs and Lakewood. The Spongers are the only county team to score more than 60 points twice this season, and they did it in consecutive games to close out the regular season (67 against Boca Ciega and 63 against Dixie Hollins).

Last week the Spartans scored 75 in a win against Hudson, becoming the first team from the state to reach the 70-point plateau in a playoff game since Plant scored 77 against Alonso in 2009.

"I think both teams are capable of putting up big plays," Tarpon Springs coach Ron Hawn said.

In their first meeting, the Spartans generated plenty of fastbreak-style points with long receptions and big runs. Lakewood's defense produced its share of stops. The result was a 46-21 victory that wrapped up the 5A, District 8 title for Lakewood.

This rematch has a good chance to again turn into pinball on cleats with both teams averaging more than 30 points per game (Tarpon Springs 31, Lakewood 32).

The only difference is the way they go about scoring.

The Spongers operate out of the spread under the direction of offensive coordinator Jonathan Williams, a former All-America tight end at New Hampshire who played for Chip Kelly.

Williams has leaned on a grind-it-out running game, led by Michael Ford, who has rushed for a team-leading 1, 244 yards and 17 touchdowns. Because of its bruising style, Tarpon Springs seems an unlikely candidate to match the numbers the Spartans put up.

But the Spongers have been able to score quickly by breaking off big gains. Tarpon Springs has four players who have runs of 55 yards or longer this season.

"The biggest thing has been our offensive line," Hawn said. "They've been a strong point all season and continue to be going into this game. Our skill players are healthy and they're starting to jell."

Lakewood, meanwhile, has an offense that promises the spectacular. Anywhere, any time, it can score. Don't blink — Joc Ellison (14 touchdowns this season) is gone again, racing down the sideline.

This is a fast-paced offense that operates between the intersection of football and track and field. The points were supposed to come right away after the Spartans had a mass of Northeast skill players transfer before the season started, including dual-threat quarterback Ryan Davis.

It took a while for everyone to get in synch as the Spartans dropped two of their first five games. But since a loss to Largo in September, Lakewood has outscored opponents a combined 229-70.

"Honestly, the biggest reason we've been scoring so much is that we're finally clicking," Davis said. "It took a little while to get our communication and our timing down. We just had to be patient, and it's happened for us at the right time.

"We're playing our best football right now, and we feel like we can play even better."

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