LAKEWOOD RANCH — Underclassmen lined the sidelines on both sides of the ball Friday night, as East County rivals Lakewood Ranch and Braden River prepared to kick off their seasons against one another for the sixth time.
Only this time around, those same unfamiliar faces making their varsity debuts also will be called upon to carry their respective teams this season.
It’s somewhat uncharted territory for the Mustangs and the Pirates, but it’s one the two East County rivals are learning to embrace. After all, with youth undoubtedly comes inexperience and miscues. But, ultimately, all that matters is the end result. It doesn’t necessarily matter how you got there — or, in this case, who got you there.
In front of a packed stadium with fans lining the field, the Mustangs used a powerful ground game and a potent defensive attack to capture a 21-7 victory over the Pirates.
It was Lakewood’s third straight victory over Braden River, which won the first three meetings between the two teams.
“It’s great,” senior linebacker Luke Sears said. “We had some young kids make some great plays today. I’m just so glad to be able to contribute. We had a great scheme. We played well. It’s a great feeling senior year to get a win against Braden River.
“It’s a big win; it’s a big atmosphere,” Sears said. “I think now we know what to expect to win. Now these guys know what to expect at practice and hopefully we can follow this next week and keep it rolling.”
With only two returning starters on offense and four returning starters on defense, the Mustangs’ roster is filled with youth, but last Friday Lakewood appeared confident in schemes it had put together.
Relying on the speed and athleticism of a sophomore quarterback and a pair of young running backs, the Mustangs scored three rushing touchdowns — two of which came in the second half.
Meanwhile, the Mustangs’ defense held the Pirates to just 25 yards on the ground. Senior tailback Austin Rain left the game early in the third quarter with an apparent shoulder injury.
“They played hard,” Lakewood coach Shawn Trent said of his defense. “I was really proud of them. For having a lot of young guys on defense … we’ve only got four returning starters, so (we have) seven guys who this is their first varsity game. We’re still young and we still made mistakes, but when you’re young you don’t care (as long as) you win.”
Lakewood took a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter on a 2-yard carry by quarterback Chad Rex, as the Mustangs took the opening kickoff and marched 78 yards down the field — all of which came on the ground.
Braden River responded in the second quarter on senior Eric Schappacher’s 3-yard quarterback keeper to tie the game 7-7 at halftime. But that would be as close as the Pirates would come — much to the disappointment of 17 seniors who were freshmen the last time Braden River defeated Lakewood.
“The kids played hard,” Braden River coach Curt Bradley said. “They got discouraged at times, but that’s part of building a program to overcome adversity; and that’s something with a lot of young kids that we have and seniors that haven’t really had a ton of success. It’s hard to really get that going in the right direction.
“We’re getting banged up quite a bit, so we have to have the next-guy-in mentality,” Bradley said. “I thought the kids played pretty hard. We had guys step up and make plays.”
Lakewood regained control of the game late in the third quarter when A’ Shawn Angel ran 50 yards for a touchdown. Angel finished with 54 yards on 10 carries. The Mustangs sealed their victory on Rex’s 53-yard touchdown run with 3:52 remaining in regulation.
“It’s going to be a long season, and I’m sure we’re going to have our ups and downs and that comes with youth, but right now we got (what) we wanted,” Trent said.
Lakewood returns to action Friday night at Southeast while Braden River hosts North Port. Both non-district games are set to kick off at 7:30 p.m.
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