From an observer’s viewpoint, the Lake Wales varsity football team checked several boxes off its Week 1 to-do list on Friday.
Highlanders head coach Tavaris Johnson agreed.
“Just a great win tonight,” Johnson said after the Highlanders kicked off the 2021 regular season with a 61-7 road win at East Ridge High. “Proud of the kids, proud of the coaches and proud of the community that came out.
“I thought we saw a lot of good things from the offense and the defense. I was proud of the way we attacked and the way we reacted tonight. Then, of course, just denying points. We always teach that and we’ve got to be an aggressive defense.”
The focus now shifts to the home opener at Legion Field on Friday, Sept. 3, where Ridge Community (0-1) awaits. All games are subject to change due to inclement weather and/or COVID-19 protocols, but the Highlanders hope to build on their team rhythm that included a solid preseason performance against
“Ridge Community is a great football team and I think every week is a playoff for us,” Johnson said. “There’s nobody on our schedule that we feel is just a pushover, and even tonight we came in with a lot of respect for East Ridge. We’ll do the same for next week and the coach at Ridge [Chris Davidson] is doing a great job.”
Lake Wales wanted to have a fast start in “The Dungeon” against East Ridge.
Check. The Highlanders effectively took away any home-field advantage the Knights may have had, building a 21-0 lead after the first quarter and a 41-0 advantage through the opening 19 minutes.
East Ridge punted on the game’s opening series, and Lake Wales then quickly moved into Knights territory. The Highlanders converted a 4th-and-5 from the 17-yard line thanks to Xavier Marlow’s 15-yard reception, and one play later senior running back Marquish Seabon went in from the 2 for his first of four rushing touchdowns.
As for the Highlanders’ spread offense, it looked for continued consistency and production behind quarterbacks Trent Grotjan and Tyron Summerall.
Check. Grotjan started and played the first half, before Summerall took over in the second half which featured a running clock.
“We tell the kids well done is better than well said,” Johnson said. “We won up front and I thought the quarterbacks did a great job with their reads and looking down the field and being patient and having a good delivery with the ball. And I thought we caught the ball better tonight.”
The offensive line was particularly effective with regard to run blocking, as Seabon also had a 22-yard TD run and a pair of 40-yard scores in the first half. Corey Harris added a nice cutback run for a touchdown with just under nine minutes remaining, while Summerall added a 9-yard score on what proved to be the game’s final play.
Grotjan, a junior, threw his first touchdown pass of the season when he connected with Carlos Mitchell for a long catch-and-run score late in the first quarter.
“Seabon ran hard, and I thought Trent did a great job stepping in for his first time starting here,” Johnson said. “Very polished, very composed and he looked relaxed. It seems as if he’s been there before.”
Another of the Highlanders’ Week 1 goals to was to play their fast-and-physical brand of defense.
Check. And scoring defensive touchdowns is beneficial, too.
Senior linebacker Mitchell Cain returned an interception down the left sideline for a touchdown with 8:15 to go in the second quarter. Junior safety Jaremiah Anglin also found the end zone on a 58-yard interception return midway through the third quarter.
The Lake Wales defense came up five turnovers – three in the opening half – with senior Chuck Taylor helping lead the way up front. East Ridge averted a shutout when Noel Rodriguez scrambled out of the pocket and passed to Timothy Moses in the end zone with 60 seconds left before halftime.
“Defensively, I tell them every week the challenge is we’ve got a lot to prove,” Johnson said. “I thought we did a great job forcing the other team to make mistakes and when you force an offense to make mistakes, you’re winning percentage goes up. We tilted the field, and we got good field position all night because of the way the defense swarmed.”
Special teams typically play an important role during a season-opening game, as well.
Check. Lake Wales did enough on special teams to keep momentum on the Highlanders’ side throughout.
Mauricio Alvarez made three extra points, Seabon ran in a two-point conversion, and Taylor bulled into the end zone when Lake Wales successfully lined up in a swinging-gate formation following its second touchdown.
Isaiah Jordan partially blocked one punt – and nearly blocked another – and Anglin had some effective punt returns.
WEEK 1 RESULTS
Auburndale 41, Fort Pierce Central 6
Bartow 48, Ridge Community 7
Davenport 14, Parrish Community 8
Discovery High 34, Avon Park 28
Fort Meade 37, Hardee 13
Haines City 27, Liberty 14
Jordan Christian Prep 10, TDH Academy 8
Lake Region 20, Lake Placid 19
Lake Wales 61, East Ridge 7
Clewiston 42, Frostproof 6
Largo 35, Winter Haven 14
Shorecrest Prep 35, All Saints’ Academy 34 (OT)
Lakeside Christian 58, Oasis Christian 0
WEEK 2 SCHEDLUE (Friday, Sept. 3, unless noted)
All Saints’ Academy at Ocala Christian
American Collegiate at Akelynn’s Angels Academy
Auburndale at Daytona Beach Halifax Academy
Avon Park vs. Jordan Christian Prep
Bartow at Clewiston
Discovery at George Jenkins
Fort Meade at DeSoto County
Frostproof at Hardee
Lake Region at Davenport
Oasis Christian at Foundation Christian
Parrish Community at Haines City
Ridge Community at Lake Wales
Sebring at Winter Haven