Though the final score says “blowout,” the rest of Plant City’s district opener against Lakeland didn’t look too much like one.
It was three Lakeland touchdowns in the final six minutes of the game that took Friday’s contest into blowout territory and gave the Dreadnaughts a 55-19 win over the Raiders, who stayed within two scores for a good chunk of the second half.
Plant City started the game with the ball, but the first play of the game — a pass attempt by Makenzie Kennedy — was picked off by Fenley Graham and returned 26 yards for a touchdown. It was the first of five interceptions for Lakeland. Plant City did manage to block the point-after attempt, giving Lakeland a 6-0 lead.
When Lakeland did have the ball in the first quarter, Plant City’s defense was game. The Raiders forced punts on both Dreadnaught drives that started and ended in the quarter, pumping up the offense and the packed bleachers. Zamir’ Knighten took the Raiders from their own 10-yard line to Lakeland’s 25 with one clean sweep run, which led to Chris Rodriguez cutting the deficit to 6-3 with a 37-yard field goal and just over a minute left in the first quarter.
But Lakeland’s next drive bled into the second quarter and was a showcase for star running back Demarckus Bowman. After Chayil Garnett picked up 11 yards on a quarterback keeper, Bowman scampered all the way from Lakeland’s 33-yard line to Plant CIty’s 17 and, two plays later, scored on a three-yard punch up the middle of the defense. A successful PAT gave Lakeland a 13-3 lead.
After forcing Plant City to punt, Lakeland drove from its own 15 to Plant City’s 13 and set up Jha’kari Martin for a 13-yard rushing touchdown with 6:16 left in the half. That gave Lakeland a 20-3 lead, but the momentum was about to shift.
The Raiders were forced to punt on their next drive, but a roughing the punter penalty was enough to give them the ball right back with a fresh set of downs at their own 34. Kennedy led the Raiders to Lakeland’s 26 and found Mario Williams along the home sideline. Williams wasn’t exactly open, but he made it work by going behind the defender’s back and fighting his way into the end zone for the first PCHS touchdown of the night. Williams followed up that highlight-reel catch by intercepting a deep pass by Garnett 25 game seconds later.
Plant City did have a chance to score before the end of the half, but a pass intended for Marquies Gines was picked off in the end zone by Lakeland’s Kendall Dennis with 12 seconds left.
Once again, the Dreadnaughts opened a half with an immediate touchdown. This time, after returning a short kick to their own 40-yard line, Lakeland called a reverse sweep and Bowman dashed 60 yards for a touchdown. Lakeland’s first two-point conversion attempt of the evening was successful, giving the Dreadnaughts a 28-10 lead.
The ensuing Plant City drive ended with another interception and a dead ball foul on the Raiders, giving Lakeland the ball at Plant CIty’s 35. Lakeland chipped away at Plant City’s defense and fed Martin until the running back once again hit paydirt, this time scoring on a two-yard plunge with 7:05 left in the quarter. Lakeland opted for a PAT and took a 35-10 lead.
Kennedy and Knighten used their legs to keep the chains moving on the next PCHS drive. A completed pass to Melek Ford, coupled with a roughing the passer penalty, helped Plant City get to Lakeland’s 36. Williams snagged a 30-yard pass from Kennedy to get the Raiders inside the Lakeland 10, and an illegal Dreadnaughts substitution had PCHS knocking on the Dreadnaughts’ door. Knighten slipped through the middle for a one-yard touchdown with 1:32 left in the quarter, bringing the score to 35-16 and keeping PCHS within two possessions.
The Raiders were the first to score in the fourth quarter, thanks to Rodriguez’s leg giving the team a field goal from 30 yards out with 6:01 left. The score now stood at 35-19 and Plant City quickly recovering its own onside kick made the atmosphere at 1 Raider Place electric. Unfortunately for Plant City, Quadir Hall gave Lakeland its fourth interception of the night and its second pick-six from 58 yards out with 4:25 left in the game.
That interception was followed by another interception on Plant City’s next drive, though this one came on a tipped pass attempt that ended up in Quadir Hall’s hands. Hall got inside the Plant City 10 before he was taken down, and Arian Smith ran in a score from 10 yards out on the next play.
Plant City’s last drive of the game ended with a lost fumble in its own territory, but Lakeland wasn’t content to simply let the clock run out with a 49-19 lead. The Dreadnaughts drove to Plant City’s 32-yard line and Garnett threw a fade in the end zone to Tayler Gant with 37 seconds left. The Dreadnaughts did not try for a PAT or two-point conversion, but instead let the running clock strike 0:00.
In other area action, Bloomingdale picked up a 35-0 shutout win at Durant and Kathleen got a 51-6 win at Strawberry Crest.