That wasn’t exactly the case Friday night at Bryant Stadium.
Lakeland indeed got plenty of offense in its 46-15 victory over Bartow for its first Class 7A, District 7 win, but it was the defense that set the tone.
Lakeland held Tim Jordan to 15 yards rushing on 11 carries until he broke an 80-yarder on Bartow’s last offensive play when the game was in a running clock. Jordan went into the game as the county’s leading rusher with 708 yards.
“The defense did a great job,” Lakeland coach Bill Castle said. “They (Bartow) never got on board. They had that fluke play at the end when we put our seconds in. He broke it on them. Up until that point, we held him down.”
The Dreadnaughts (5-1, 1-0), who were upset by the Yellow Jackets 26-25 last year, allowed 150 yards of offense, but that is deceiving. Bartow got 81 yards on a busted play when punter L.J. Cummings scooped up a bad snap that got by him near the goal line, scrambled past the 20 then lateraled to Ja’ron Kilkpatrick who scampered down the sidelines for Bartow’s first touchdown that cut Lakeland’s lead to 32-8 late in the third quarter. Other than that and Jordan’s last run the Yellow Jackets were stifled. Other than that play and Jordan’s late run, Lakeland allowed minus-11 yards of offense.
“Defensively, we just played together,” Lakeland linebacker Kieron Speights said. “Everybody did their assignments. We just played as a team and did our job.”
Lakeland, meanwhile, finished with 269 yards of offense, benefiting from great field position most of the game. A.J. Davis led with 153 yards on 19 carries, including a 60-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. To combat Bartow’s strong pass rush, Lakeland went with a quick passing game and Holden Hotchkiss was 11 of 14 for 115 yards. James Robinson caught seven passes for 55 yards, including a leaping 16-yard touchdown pass late in the first half.
“We came out strong and finished strong,” Robinson said. “We were hungry. Everybody was on the same page.”
The Dreadnaughts set the tone on the first series when they held the Yellow Jackets to minus-2 yards to force a punt and took over at the Bartow 37. Davis scored eight plays later on a 9-yard run.
On Bartow’s next series, a bad snap on the punt allowed Lakeland to take over at the 16. Penalties and Bartow’s defense forced Lakeland back to the 30, and Lakeland punted then sacked quarterback Davin Williams on the next play for a safety.
“They’ve got a good defense,” Castle said. “We shot ourselves in the foot several times.”
Hotchkiss’ 16-yard touchdown pass to Robinson late in the first half to cap an 11-play, 60-yard drive made it 16-0, and Davis’ 60-yard run five plays into the second half gave Lakeland complete control of the game. Lakeland never punted in the second half, using the controlled passing game that negated Bartow’s strong pass rush to complement Davis’ running.
“We matched up with what we thought we could do,” Castle said. “They’re awfully good, those two defensive ends. The yardage didn’t come easy.”
Bartow has a bye next week and then they return to take on Kathleen.