Lakeland Lets Its Game Do All The Talking

LAKELAND — The last time the Lakeland Dreadnaughts lost a game was in 2004 in the preseason jamboree at Lake Gibson. It was a practice game before the season began so it didn’t count in the standings but it did serve as a wakeup call to Coach Bill Castle’s Lakeland team. The sting of losing, even if it didn’t count, propelled the Dreadnaughts to run the table in 2004 and then again in 2005.

So it was only fitting Friday night that the seniors on this Lakeland team walked away with the satisfaction of a bad memory erased. What was expected to be a close game against district foe Lake Gibson on the road turned into just another same old, same old for the Dreadnaughts. Lakeland won, 46-7, but it could have been worse. Much, much worse.

“We lost here the last time we played,” said Ahmad Black, a Florida commitment that finished the game with four assisted tackles, two assists and a 46-yard pass interception returned for a second quarter touchdown. “We didn’t want to finish our careers thinking that the time we played here we lost.”

There had been some trash talking from the other side. As if he needed further motivation — he sat out last week’s win over Miami’s Dr. Krop with a thigh bruise and he was chomping at the bit to play again — Lakeland tailback Chris Rainey decided maybe the Dreadnaughts’ cross-town rivals needed to learn a little humility.

“They were really talking some trash,” said Rainey, the Florida commitment who finished the night with 298 total yards — nine carries for 192 yards and three touchdowns, two kickoff returns for 106 yards. “Maybe they should have let their game do their talking.”

With Lakeland leading 8-0 late in the first quarter, Rainey took a pitch around the left side, followed blocks by the Pouncey twins and found a seam in the Lake Gibson defense. He hit that extra gear he has and it was a 77-yard race to the end zone that he wasn’t going to lose.

“There aren’t too many guys that are going to catch Chris if he gets a step,” said Florida commitment Paul Wilson. Wilson, lonelier than the Maytag Repairman in Lakeland’s run-first offense, caught a little bubble screen that he turned into a 15-yard gain and had a five yard run on an end-around sweep. “We know that if we hold our blocks just a half second longer, he can break one all the way. It really motivates us to stay with our blocks.”

Lake Gibson got on the board in the second quarter when Bilal Powell ran a punt back 59 yards for a touchdown to close the gap to 15-7. The Braves angled the kickoff away from Rainey but the Dreadnaughts had the solution to that. Jamar Taylor took the kick at his 15, took a couple of steps forward and then pitched it back to Rainey who was off on a 73-yard jaunt that set up a field goal. Before the half ended, Rainey would add a 17-yard touchdown run to his game day resume’.

“We knew he was going to have a big day,” said Michael Pouncey, like his twin brother Maurkice Pouncey, a Florida commitment. “He didn’t play last week and he couldn’t wait to get out here.”

It was 32-7 at the half and the margin expanded to the final 46-7 in the third quarter when Rainey and Taylor lit up the Braves on back-to-back possessions. Midway through the period, Rainey ripped off an 80-yard run, following the exact same formula as the first two touchdowns — he simply followed the Pounceys and then turned on the jets when he saw the opening. Rainey did a forward flip once he got into the end zone and followed it up with a Gator chomp. He got a 15-yard penalty for his exuberance.

Taylor, who is committed to the University of Alabama, followed that up with a 74-yard scoring run that put the exclamation point on Lakeland’s 36th straight victory.

And it wasn’t all offensive fireworks for the Dreadnaughts. The defense gave up just 121 yards and 55 of them came when Powell snaked his way through the Lakeland defense and turned what should have been a five-yard run into an all-out sprint before Black and Florida commitment Steve Wilks rode him out of bounds.

Wilks finished the night with five unassisted tackles, five assists, one pass breakup and one forced fumble. Once again he was a special teams demon, downing a punt on the Lake Gibson one with a nice ballet job of tiptoeing along the goal line and keeping the ball from breaking the plane. He also had the hit of the night in the second quarter when he unloaded on Powell with a vicious hit, a shoulder to the solar plexus of the Lake Gibson tailback that sent him sprawling face first into the turf along the sideline.

“We wanted to send them a message,” said Wilks. “They did a lot of talking and that just fired us up and made us want to beat them bad. You send a message when you get a big hit like that.”

When Wilks and Black weren’t making plays, defensive tackle John Brown was. Triple teamed with two linemen and a fullback the entire night, Brown still had two tackles and a tackle for a one-yard loss, three assists, two quarterback hurries and a sack at the end of the first half that was more like a body slam for a 12-yard loss.

“Our defense is under-rated,” said Brown. “We’ve got some new guys and it’s taken us a little while to get to know each other. I think we’re really starting to play together pretty good. I think we’re going to get better every game from now on.”

Brown, who is still undecided, said he’s starting to narrow down his college choices.

“There are three teams … well, actually, really there are only two that I think about seriously,” said Brown. “It’s really Florida and Alabama and that’s about it.”

Brown will be in Gainesville for the Florida-Alabama game, sitting with his six best friends, all of whom are Florida commits.

“I’m excited about going to a game at The Swamp,” he said. “I know it’s real loud and all that. I want to really feel what it’s like on a big game day.”

Maurkice Pouncey, who has been to two of Florida’s home games thus far, knows exactly what Brown should expect.

“Loud … really, really loud,” he said. “I expect the Gators are going to win and I expect The Swamp to rock. I think all of us are going to have a really good time at the game.”

GAME NOTES: Mark down the name Bilal Powell. The Lake Gibson tailback is the real deal. In addition to the 59-yard punt return for a touchdown and the 55-yard run, he had a 77-yard touchdown run that was called back because of holding. He’s such a dangerous kick returner that the Dreadnaughts chose to use the sky kick to keep the ball away from Powell on all but one of their kickoffs … Lakeland corner Brian Valdez continues to impress. He had one tackle and three assists on a night when Lake Gibson pretty much stayed away from his side of the field. Valdez, who is starting to get a lot of interest from several Southeastern Conference schools, picked up an offer from Michigan State earlier in the week … Top-ranked Hoover, Alabama lost Friday night so the Dreadnaughts should move up at least one spot in the USAToday poll. Lakeland was ranked third in last week’s poll, but the Dreadnaughts could actually leapfrog number two Byrnes, South Carolina this week, especially considering Lakeland is the defending USAToday national champ.

Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.