The Bucs jump-started to an early advantage in the FHSAA Class 5A state semi-final playoff game with a sky kick on the opening kickoff. A Lakeland receiver attempted to catch the ball, but lost the handle and Mainland recovered at the Dreadnaughts 37. One play later Ellis found himself wide open down the middle, and he coasted into the end zone.
The teams traded turnovers, Lakeland via the air and Mainland on the ground. Once in possession, Garner and company briefly exploited the Dreadnaught secondary, as receivers were open. This had all of the makings of an outstanding game. However, moments later, Garner was swarmed under on a Dreadnaught blitz and sacked. His night was over, and so too was the Buccaneers hopes of defending their state championship title in Gainesville.
"You saw what we did when he (Garner) was in there. You know the things would have been very different if he were in there" Ellis said. Without Garner, the Bucs relied heavily on their running game.
It was evident from the first few attempts that their reserve quarterback was not a passer. Eventually, the Dreadnaughts filled up the box and set their sights on stopping tailback Avery Atkins. Lakeland's speed to the football is simply outstanding. Atkins had some success, but it was tempered.
The Dreadnaughts seemingly dared Mainland to throw the ball. Ellis is a exceptional target who the Gators, among many others, are recruiting, but they couldn't find time to get him the ball. The reserve quarterback rolled out a few times looking for an open receiver, but was run down by the outstanding speed of the Dreadnaughts defense.
Lakeland scored after controlling the clock through the end of the first quarter and most of the second, as tailback Chris Rainey demonstrated his outside speed and cutback abilities running inside. Running back Steve Chancey finally bulled over from three yards out, tying the score 7-7.
The Dreadnaughts scored again with 11:04 remaining in the third quarter, as a linebacker picked up a blown handoff attempt and raced into the endzone to make the score 14-7.
The Bucs tried unsuccessfully to counter the 'Naughts speed with traps, counters, and cutbacks, but they couldn't muster a scoring drive. Eventually, the defense gave way, as Lakeland scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 3:07.
The Dreadnaughts have a few very good players and a ton of speed. We will be taking a look at them as they prepare for their Class 5A State championship game against St. Thomas Aquinas.