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There's still plenty to dread

Rumor has it that Lakeland is down this year.

The Dreadnaughts aren't the big, scary team that arrives at your stadium, pummels your seniors back to their sophomore years then rampages to its next game.

Nope, Lakeland just isn't what it used to be.

But then again, how could it?

When the Dreadnaughts of today are compared to the Dreadnaughts of the past, it's easy to forget that this is a program that won 60 straight regular-season games. A program that won state titles in 1986, 1996 and 1999.

Perhaps Lakeland isn't the team it used to be. But you know what? The Dreadnaughts are still pretty darn good.

"I talked to (Lakeland coach) Bill Castle last week and he said people are talking about them like they've had a losing season," said Chamberlain coach Billy Turner, who will lead his Chiefs against Lakeland on Friday in a region semifinal game.

"That's a bunch of baloney. They've got great weapons. When they've got great players they win the state title. When they've just got good players, they go 9-1."

That's exactly what the Dreadnaughts did this season, finishing 9-1 (with the lone loss coming against Durant and costing them the district title). They advanced to Friday's semifinal after beating Kissimmee Osceola 38-14, a game that Lakeland led 38-0 before emptying the bench.

Now Lakeland heads to Chamberlain. An important sentence when it comes to fighting the Dreadnaughts' mystique.

Be it dealing with the thousands of screaming fans, the never-ending bell ringing, the cannon shots after each score or the incessant flag-waving by cheerleaders who run up and down the track with 5- by 7-foot flags, playing at Bryant Stadium is one of the most daunting tasks a team can face.

"It means a lot to get to host them," Turner said. "Playing at home is a definite advantage for us. Of course, it's an advantage any time you don't have to get on that school bus and go somewhere."

What the Chiefs (10-1) will face is one of the most balanced offenses they've seen this season.

Dreadnaughts quarterback Prince Hixon passed for 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns, most of them to Chad Pearce, who finished as Polk County's leading receiver with 33 catches and 12 touchdowns. Four Lakeland runners rushed for more than 400 yards.

The Dreadnaught offense finished second in Polk County with 348 yards per game and the defense was fifth overall, allowing 187 yards per game.

What the Chiefs can gain is momentum as they head deeper into the playoffs. Not to mention a little respect. The team, which appeared in last year's state final, entered the postseason ranked ninth in Class 5A.

"I think Chamberlain is respected in Hillsborough County and probably on the West Coast. But if you beat Lakeland that earns you statewide respect immediately," Turner said.

"It's a lot like last year when we beat Hillsborough for the second time; we felt like we could beat anybody in the state. If you beat Lakeland, then I don't know why you can't beat anybody."

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