CLEARWATER — Lakewood’s star quarterback Ryan Davis scrambled for his life — for the Spartans’ life — his last gasp and last pass sailing high and far, but none of his star receivers got close enough to catch the ball.
But some guy named Damien Howard did.
On a Friday night where the biggest stars were on one sideline — Lakewood’s — the other sideline’s group of unknowns and unprovens decided to make it theirs.
Jarek Vance and Chase Coppedge had pivotal sacks. Mekhi Reynolds and Dante Satcher banged out tough yards between the tackles. Kicker Martin Turowksi split the uprights.
And there was Howard, whose interception on fourth and 25 sealed Countryside’s surprising 15-13 victory over the No. 3-ranked team in the HomeTeam 25.
The interception was set up by consecutive sacks by Josh Rivera and Steven Czop, pushing Lakewood back to the 5.
“It was sack city there at the end. We were just killing it,” said Czop, who helped lead a defense that only allowed 27 yards and one first down in the second half.
While Countryside lost to Clearwater Central Catholic last week, Friday marked Lakewood’s first game, after two preseason games were canceled by other teams. And it showed.
Half a dozen players had to be treated for cramps, the Spartans looked rusty, the running game was non-existent and a blocked punt led to the Cougars’ only touchdown.
Lakewood also had trouble a number of times making sure 11 guys were on the field, none more costly that an illegal substitution penalty in the fourth quarter.
One the first play of the quarter, Countryside was punting but Lakewood did not have a return man in. He rushed out to position but it was too late, and the flag gave Countryside a first down.
That kept alive what turned out to be a 20-play, 69-yard drive that took 7:35 and culminated in Turowski’s third field goal, a 29-yarder, to give the Cougars a 15-13 lead with 5:40 left.
Lakewood turned the ball over on downs its final two drives.
“No excuses, Countryside did a great job,” Lakewood coach Cory Moore said. “The big thing for us is, we got the monkey off our back and played some ball. We were rusty. But I guarantee you we’re going to be pretty good.”
The Spartans opened with a 19-yard pass from Davis to Tyrae Boykins, and Davis added a 38-yard run and a 28-yard touchdown pass to Joc Ellison on the first play of the second half. But that was it for big plays from the Spartans, expected to be a big-play team after an influx of offseason transfers.
“That was our emphasis, the big plays, and we gave up a few there in the first half,” Countryside coach Jared Davis said. “But once we cut those down and tackled better, we were able to do some things.”
The Cougars wore down the Spartans with a strong running attack. Reynolds rushed for 73 yards in the first half, and Satcher ran for 68 in the second as the two combined for 156 total on 29 carries.