Lakeland miscues and penalties sustained Plant City's victory hopes all night, but in the end it was two penalties and an incomplete pass that cost the Raiders' chances for a stunning come-from-behind victory.
The Dreadnaughts survived the last-minute Plant City rally to come away with a 21-16 victory in the Class 5A, District 7 game. Lakeland, which got 303 yards rushing from Tom Sanders and Dale Terrell, moves to 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the district while the Raiders (3-1) drop to 1-1.
The outcome would have been different if Plant City could have scored on a dramatic fourth-quarter drive that began on its 15-yard line and went all the way to the Lakeland 5. But the penalties that had been an ally to the Raiders turned against them.
On second-and-goal from the five, Plant City quarterback Alan Kicklighter spiked the ball to stop the clock with 36 seconds remaining, but the officials lagged Kicklighter for intentional grounding.
The ball was moved back to the 10 and Plant City lost a down. On third-and-goal from the 10, Kicklighter scrambled away from the Dreadnaught rush and raced down to the three, but the play was called back because of holding.
With only six seconds remaining, Plant City was now faced with a third-and-goal from the 20. Kicklighter lofted a ball toward Kevin Sullivan in the left corner of the end zone, but two Lakeland defenders broke up the pass and the game ended.
Raiders coach Floyd Kelly said spiking the ball is legal, while Lakeland coach Bill Castle said the move is not allowed in high school football.
"I don't think it's even allowed in college," Castle said.
Despite the confusion about the intentional grounding call, Kelly said it was the holding penalty that was "the turning point in the ballgame."
It was Lakeland's penalties and fumbles, however, that kept resuscitating Plant City's dying hopes. The Dreadnaughts were on the verge of putting the game away early in the fourth quarter when they drove 79 yards to set up a third-and-goal from the 1. Chad Arthur fumbled however and Plant City recovered.
"It was a dumb call," Castle said of the quarterback sneak.
Aided by a unsportsmanlike conduct call, Kicklighter took over at the 15 with 4:53 remaining and drove the Raiders down the field on short passes.