Lakeland Dominates For 5A Crown

All it took was a strong running game and a monster defensive front for the Lakeland to achieve the status of simply perfect. <p> Lakeland's Dreadnaughts planted their flag at the center of Florida Field Friday night, dominating St. Thomas Aquinas, 31-7, for their first state title since 1999, and going undefeated (15-0) in doing so.

"They blitzed us all night, and we probably needed to throw the ball a little more, but we were having success keeping their offense on the sideline," said Lakeland Coach Bill Castle. "They say defense wins championships. Well, I thought that our defense stood up tonight and played great. This team has played with great heart. They've improved as the year has gone along and it's just been a great year."

Stud defensive tackle Kendrick Stewart (6-2, 280) made his audition for a Sunshine State scholarship offer in front of fans and numerous scouts as he led Lakeland's defensive charge. Stewart, who finished unofficially on the night with 4 tackles and a sack, said after the game that he hoped this would bring him some extra offers.

The defense held St. Thomas in check completely in the first half holding them to 23 yards on 19 plays and just two first downs.

Another Lakeland defender who wreaked havoc on the St. Thomas line was John Brown, a 6-2, 275-pound sophomore defensive tackle. He continually beat the man across from him to get into the St. Thomas backfield where he spent the night chasing the quarterback out of the pocket.

"We worked hard for it all season long," Stewart said. "I have to give credit to our running back Chris Rainey who played his heart out."

Rainey, a 5-8, 156-pound mixture of speed and dazzling moves, stole the show on the offensive side of the ball, running for 152 yards on 15 carries and one touchdown. He had the run of the night in the third quarter when he turned on the jets between the tackles and freed himself up for 49-yard scamper into the end zone to make the score 24-7.

Lakeland quarterback Chris Griffin also had an impressive night passing for 85 yards and touchdown while rushing for 119 yards and another score.

Recruiting Tidbits from the Game: St. Thomas Aquinas defenders John Duhe and Gene Atkins, both sons of former Miami Dolphins, refused comment after the game.

Samuel Young, a 6-6, 280-pound junior offensive tackle, is a rising star in the Class of 2006 and is a best bet to make the top national lists for offensive linemen.

"Right now I think I'm looking at Penn State, Michigan, Miami, but I still have plenty of homework to do," Young said. "I will start looking more into it when I get to that point, but I'm going to work hard so that we can be here next year."

Quotes from the stars for Lakeland:

Running back Chris Rainey (5-8, 156, So., Lakeland): 15 carries for 152 yards and a touchdown; one reception for 25 yards

"It was a terrific year. I can't wait to get back here. I learned with from my brother Rod Smart ("He Hate Me" from XFL days, now in the NFL). I've loved Florida ever since I was little. This is my place. I'll be working with Rod so that I can get better and stronger and faster."

Defensive tackle John Brown (6-2, 275, So., Lakeland): Three tackles; two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks

"I feel great. Really great. We had to make some adjustments once we saw what they had. I Defensive tackle Kendrick Stewart (6-2, 285, Sr., Lakeland): Four tackles; one sack, one tackle for loss, and one pass broken up

"I was trying to fight off of the blocks all night. I messed up a few plays, but tried to get it done. They were shooting the gaps and we had to adjust to that. We could sense a little frustration I have Florida, Florida State, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame recruiting me, all on the defensive side of the ball. Right now I have offers from Pitt, USF, UCF, Notre Dame. I'm waiting on one from Florida State and a letter from Florida too."

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