Lakewood holds off top-seeded Tampa Catholic in Class 2M thriller

The outcome was in doubt until Amare Garrett’s interception on a tipped ball in Spartans territory.
Fourth-seeded Lakewood upset No. 1 Tampa Catholic 44-41 in a Class 2M region semifinal thriller.
Fourth-seeded Lakewood upset No. 1 Tampa Catholic 44-41 in a Class 2M region semifinal thriller. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 19, 2022|Updated Nov. 19, 2022

TAMPA — Lakewood and Tampa Catholic combined for 893 yards and 41 first downs Friday, and the two starting quarterbacks each threw five touchdown passes.

But in the final minute, it took a defensive play by Spartans senior Amare Garrett to seal fourth-seeded Lakewood’s 44-41 upset of No. 1 Tampa Catholic in a Class 2M region semifinal thriller.

Lakewood advanced to next week’s region final, where it will play at Calvary Christian — a 29-28 winner over Berkeley Prep — with a shot at a second consecutive state semifinal berth.

Lakewood (8-4), which snapped the eight-game winning streak of Tampa Catholic (9-2), trailed by two scores on three different occasions, the final time at 33-21 early in the fourth quarter. But the Spartans showed their moxie in a wild final period that produced 37 points.

Senior Aviyon Mack-Smith sparked Lakewood’s comeback with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Virginia commit and senior Anthony Colandrea with 10:59 remaining, his second scoring reception of the game. Less than 2-1/2 minutes later, Mack-Smith’s 70-yard punt return put the Spartans up 33-28. It was Lakewood’s first lead since the first quarter.

Tampa Catholic junior quarterback Trey Hedden put the Crusaders back on top 41-35 on the ensuing series with a 13-yard touchdown toss to sophomore Tyler Tuel.

But with 2:45 left, Colandrea orchestrated a 10-play, 60-yard drive, capped by his second scoring pass of the night to junior Gage Nix, covering 14 yards. The extra-point kick by senior Nathaniel Sosa-Jones gave the Spartans the lead for good.

That was hardly the end of the drama. On the ensuing series, Lakewood senior Isaiah Nixon sacked Hedden in the end zone for a safety with 1:13 left for a 44-41 lead. Tampa Catholic, which didn’t have regular place-kicker Paul Desousa (out with an illness), was successful in pouncing on an onside kick that was recovered by sophomore LJ Elwin.

Tampa Catholic moved the ball to its 40 before Garrett sealed the deal for Lakewood by intercepting a Hedden pass at the Spartans 38 that went off the hands of senior Lewis Carter. Carter, an Oklahoma commit, rushed for 232 yards on 24 carries and scored two touchdowns.

Colandrea wound up with 314 yards on 20-of-28 passing. Hedden completed 10 of 18 attempts for 185 yards, and his interception was the game’s lone turnover.

The game was delayed for 15 minutes late in the fourth quarter when Tampa Catholic standout junior TJ Moore sustained an undisclosed injury and was transported to the hospital.

“It was a big game for us,” Lakewood coach Cory Moore said. “I think our schedule helped us a lot to be battle-tested. I give credit to Tampa Catholic. They are a great football team and coached well. But things wound up falling our way.”

Two years ago, Tampa Catholic outlasted Lakewood 17-14 in a Class 4A region semifinal double-overtime game.

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“Hats go off to Lakewood,” Tampa Catholic coach Jeris McIntyre said. “They are a talented football team. They wound up with the most points at the end, but our boys fought hard all year and I’m super proud of them.

“It was a great season. They beat Jesuit, they beat Berkeley Prep, and they played a great Lakewood team hard.”