ST. PETERSBURG — Throughout its historic undefeated season, Lakewood has leaned on its defense. If the offense can get a few points, the defense takes care of the rest. That was the thinking in every game, and it worked.
At least until Friday night.
The Spartans had a muffed punt that eventually resulted in a touchdown and allowed a safety on a blocked punt in what turned out to be a 9-7 loss to Miami Booker T. Washington in the Class 4A state semifinals. The only Lakewood touchdown came on defense.
“Went down to the wire but we just couldn’t put it all together,” Lakewood coach Cory Moore said. “There’s three phases to the game and tonight we couldn’t put them all together. But I’m proud of the guys. They played their butts off.”
The Spartans (12-1) had only 143 yards of total offense. They punted eight times and missed two long field goals in the second half.
And penalties were once again a problem. Lakewood had 17 for 133 yards. But the Spartans were still very much in the game.
Both offenses mostly sputtered in the first half. Lakewood punted on all six of its possessions. Washington punted four times in the half, but one of them turned into a touchdown.
Early in the second, the Spartans muffed a punt and Washington recovered on the Lakewood 14. Three plays later, Torey Morrison hit Jacorey Brooks on a 5-yard pass to make it 7-0. That would be the only touchdown in the half.
Late in the second, Lakewood’s sixth punt was blocked. The ball rolled through the end zone for a safety.
It was 9-0 at the break. The Spartans had 62 yards of total offense.
“We saw something on film this week and we wanted to try to block one,” Washington associate coach Ben Hanks said. “We put the play on for that punt and it worked.”
Lakewood came out fired up in the third quarter. Quarterback Greg Spann II made several long runs on the first drive to take the ball down to the 9.
But two penalties and intentional grounding moved the ball back to the 30. The Spartans then missed a 46-yard field goal.
The Tornadoes (12-2) fumbled on their first play of the half, but Lakewood missed a 45-yard field goal on the next drive.
No problem. Samari Smith picked up another fumble and scored from 20 yards to make it 9-7.
Things settled down after that.
Washington quarterback Morrison was able to keep drives alive with his legs. But Lakewood’s defense did not allow another point.
The Spartans couldn’t get anything going on offense. Two drives in the last three minutes ended in a punt and on downs, respectively.
“We had some opportunities,” Moore said. “The defense gave us those opportunities. We just couldn’t complete the things we should have. When you play good teams like Booker T. you have to do that.”
The Tornadoes have won eight straight. Lakewood was trying to play for its first state championship. The Pinellas County state title drought continues.