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Football: Lakeland 55, Plant City 19

There’s a reason the Dreadnaughts have not lost since 2017 and are the defending state champion.
Football teams across Tampa Bay were in action Friday night. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
Football teams across Tampa Bay were in action Friday night. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Sep. 14

PLANT CITY — The hiatus in the Plant City-Lakeland series lasted 5,440 nights.

Not much has changed.

Fifteen years after dropping a lopsided decision to their powerhouse opponent, the Raiders again had no answers Friday in a Class 7A, District 7 opener for both teams.

Plant City (1-3, 0-1) lost its third consecutive game, 55-19, as Lakeland, the defending Class 7A state champion, extended its win streak to 19.

The Dreadnaughts have not lost since 2017, when they fell 13-10 to Plant in a region final.

"It kind of unraveled for us,'' Plant City coach James Booth said. "We started turning the ball over and throwing inopportune picks, and forcing some throws based off of some pressure that we didn’t need to make.

"You give good teams opportunities, and they’re going to make plays.''

Plant City was one of 15 teams to lose to Lakeland in 2004, when the Dreadnaughts defeated the Raiders 49-7 en route to a perfect season that was capped by a 31-7 state championship win against Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.

This time, Lakeland beat Plant City less than 10 months after another unbeaten campaign — highlighted by its seventh overall state title in a 33-20 win over St. Thomas Aquinas.

Plant City was hoping to repeat an upset of Lakeland 25 years ago, when Josh Kennedy, father of current Raiders quarterback Makenzie Kennedy, sparked a 19-14 stunner. The elder Kennedy missed an extra point, but atoned for that by runnning for a first down off a fake punt to keep the winning drive alive.

Makenzie Kennedy didn’t get off to a good start. On the game’s first play from scrimmage, Lakeland’s Fenley Graham intercepted his pass along the left sideline and raced 27 yards for a Dreadnaughts 6-0 lead with only 20 seconds expired. It was one of five picks off Kennedy as the Raiders suffered six turnovers.

Plant City cut the deficit in half on a Chris Rodriguez 37-yard field goal, his first of two three-pointers. But the Dreadnaughts scored the next two touchdowns in the second quarter with every yard coming on the ground.

Demarkcus Bowman, a Clemson commit, capped a seven-play, 89-yard drive with a 3-yard run. Lakeland then went 85 yards in two plays with Jha’Kari Martin scoring from the 13.

Bowman had a big first half with 108 yards on eight carries, and finished with 172 yards on 11 attempts with two TDs.

The Dreadnaughts rushed for 220 yards on 16 carries in the first two quarters, but hurt themselves with 11 penalties totaling 135 yards. They finished the game with 327 yards rushing, and 22 penalties for 232 yards.

A Kennedy-to-Mario Williams 26-yard TD pass with 56 seconds left before intermission pulled Plant City within 20-10.

Moments later, Williams intercepted a pass by Lakeland quarterback and Auburn commit Chayil Garnett, who was making his first start after chipping a bone in his right throwing hand. But a Kennedy pass in the end zone on the final play of the half was intercepted by Kendall Dennis.

Lakeland scored on its first two series after halftime to pull away. Bowman ran 60 yards for a TD on the first play from scrimmage, and Martin followed with a 5-yard scoring run.

The Dreadnaughts sealed the win when Quadir Hall returned another interception 58 yards for a score with 4:24 left, and Arian Smith followed with an 8-yard scoring run and Tayler Gant caught a 35-yard TD pass.

Zamir’ Knighten led Plant City with 108 rushing on 14 attempts and a TD.

Most of the game was played without one bank of lights available on the Plant City side of the field.

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