The 2021 high school football season resembles a chess match with several pieces moving about the board.
Whether it’s a quarantine period because of COVID-19 concerns or game-day delays due to rainstorms and lightning strikes, multiple varsity programs within the Winter Haven Sun coverage area have jumped from one landing square to another in hopes of maintaining a regular-season schedule. Lake Region is one such example.
Lake Region, which is competing this season as a Florida High School Athletic Association independent program, went into quarantine and missed a Week 2 matchup with first-year school Davenport. The Thunder then had a cancellation in Week 3 (vs. Avon Park), and the solution was moving up their Week 11 contest with Class 8A Celebration High to last Friday.
The Avon Park game has been rescheduled for Sept. 24 at Lake Region.
Head coach Geoff Bangley’s team had a 1-1 overall record following a 48-8 loss to Celebration. Lake Region trailed 21-0 after one quarter as the Storm effectively utilized their speed advantage on the edge.
Celebration’s Oniel Senatus rushed for 314 yards and scored touchdowns on seven of his 10 carries, including an 80-yarder with 4:13 remaining in the second quarter that pushed the Storm’s advantage to 27-0.
Lake Region reached the Celebration 6-yard line on the previous possession, but the Thunder turned the ball over on downs following a 5-yard penalty and back-to-back sacks.
Lake Region got on the scoreboard with 2:47 left in the third quarter as Marcos Ovando passed to Kaden Hayes in the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown. Ovando and Hayes also connected on the ensuing two-point conversion.
“It definitely turned out to be a game that I feel may have been a different experience in Week 11 compared to Week 3,” Bangley remarked. “However, [Celebration head coach Rich] Pringle has done one heck of a job. I think Celebration is, and will be, a lot better than many people will give them credit for. I would not be shocked if we look back at the end of the year and feel they were the best team we played all year.”
Developing offensive and defensive game plans has been tricky for head coaches and their staff, particularly if there is an ongoing search during the week for an opponent. Cancellations were part of the norm in 2020 when Lake Region was limited to six regular-season games amid the pandemic.
“As for the game-planning aspect, it has been difficult on that front all of last year and doesn’t seem to be getting any better,” Bangley added. “The good news is coach Pringle and I got this game pulled together on Monday, so we had plenty of days to put together a game plan. They were definitely the better team Friday night and we played too inconsistent to keep up.”
Here are three additional takeaways following what was an eventful Week 3 in high school varsity football:
Eight teams – Bartow (2-1), Lake Wales (2-1), Jordan Christian Prep (2-1), Oasis Christian 8-man (2-1), Ridge Community (1-2), Davenport (1-2), Discovery High (1-2) and Winter Haven (0-3) – played three games through the opening three weeks of the regular season.
All Saints’ Academy’s 8-man team was in that position as well, but the result of Monday’s continuation game against Kissimmee City of Life was unavailable at press time. Inclement weather stopped the Sunshine State Athletic Conference contest last Friday with the host Saints (0-2) leading 22-6.
Bartow came up with four turnovers in a rain-soaked, 20-13 win over Sebring on Friday. The Yellow Jackets successfully rebounded from a 27-point road loss to Vero Beach in Week 2, which happened after Bartow’s scheduled game against Clewiston was cancelled.
Zachary Pleuss threw for 349 yards and two touchdowns last Friday, helping Ridge Community to a 26-20 win over Victory Christian Academy. In a game played at Southeastern University’s Victory Field, the Bolts ended a two-game skid by outscoring VCA 14-6 in the second half.
Ridge’s Rick Penick finished with seven catches for 121 yards and Joe Jackson totaled 209 rushing/receiving yards and two scores.
Davenport’s first-ever home game proved memorable as the Broncos and fellow Class 4A-Region 3 competitor Tenoroc went to overtime on Friday. Davenport’s Brinley Vandiver threw five TD passes, but the Titans rallied for a 35-34 win.
Jordan Christian Prep defeated Sarasota Out-of-Door Academy 32-6, while Oasis Christian outlasted St. John Lutheran 16-8. Meanwhile, Discovery dropped a 20-19 decision to Umatilla and Winter Haven lost 27-14 to Lake Gibson.
Of the schools to have played two games thus far, Auburndale remained undefeated with Friday’s 34-26 victory over Kathleen.
Zach Tanner recorded three first-half touchdown passes as the Bloodhounds built a double-digit halftime lead. Jerrod Johnson not only contributed a pair of rushing scores on offense, but he also helped fuel the defense with 11 total tackles (3 tackles for loss) and a fumble recovery.
Another 2-0 team heading into Week 4 is Fort Meade. The Miners breezed past Bishop McLaughlin Catholic, 41-6, on the strength of a 28-point first half and a dominant defensive effort.
Haines City trailed Hardee 27-0 at halftime on Friday before the game was reportedly called due to lightning. The Hornets are also playing as an FHSAA independent this season.
Akelynn’s Angels Christian Academy (0-2) played a close game last Thursday against IMG Academy Blue – the Wildcats came out on the short end of a 23-20 score – while Frostproof (0-2) had a Week 3 matchup with Okeechobee cancelled after attempts to play on Friday and Saturday.
Frostproof, which only took the field four times during the 2020 pandemic season, is scheduled to host Akelynn’s Angels Academy on Friday, Sept. 17. It would mark the Wildcats’ first-ever meeting against a Polk County opponent.
The marquee matchup in Week 3 happened Friday at Legion Field where previously undefeated Lake Wales hosted the Lakeland Dreadnaughts. This game also experienced a weather delay as Lakeland scored 41 of the final 48 points in a 41-14 victory.
The Highlanders rushed for 190 yards as a team, but the Lakeland defense held quarterbacks Trent Grotjan and Tyron Summerall to 18 yards passing on 4-of-9 attempts. Marquish Seabon gained 84 yards on 13 carries with one touchdown, Grotjan had 62 yards on eight rushes and Xavier Marlow added 24 rushing yards and one score.
Defensively, Sean Major (17 total tackles, 15 solo) and Terrell James (12 total tackles, 11 solo) were among Lake Wales’s statistical leaders.