LAKEWOOD RANCH — There’s an old-but-simple axiom commonly used in the business world: Good planning almost always leads to good execution.
After last week’s bitter loss to Southeast, in which Lakewood Ranch lost its second quarterback in as many games, the Mustangs last week came out with a plan. And they executed to near perfection as they ran roughshod over the visiting East Lee County Jaguars 34-20 Sept. 18.
Coach Shawn Trent’s move of junior Zack Larson from starting free safety to quarterback paid off in spades, as it restored the passing element sorely missing from the Southeast game. Larson, who had not taken a snap since he quarterbacked his freshman team two years ago, displayed agility and confidence in the pocket. He connected for two touchdowns with senior Harrison Skokos and one with Taryn Laws.
Larson also was unafraid to go long — his longest throw of the night was a 40-yard bomb to Daniel Clifford.
Aggressive and focused, the Mustangs registered the largest scoring barrage of the young season. Unlike past games, which saw the Mustangs lumber through the first half, Lakewood managed to put up points in every quarter but the third. Perhaps they realized East Lee County was a team they had underestimated last year and didn’t want to be fooled again. In last year’s contest, Lakewood had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a last-minute field goal.
In this game, they took nothing for granted, striking early and often. The Mustangs scored first when Harrison Skokos ran 27 yards into the end zone with 9:36 left in the first. The Jaguars evened up the score with 11:50 left in the second quarter, but Lakewood answered back on their next drive when Larson again connected with Skokos, this time for a 32-yard run. Seth Browning’s extra point put the Mustangs ahead 14-7.
The Jaguars proved to be a formidable foe — at least during the first half. They battled back and scored again with 6:33 left in the second quarter, which tied the game 14-14. Lakewood responded with 1:52 left in the second when Larson ran the ball into the end zone on a quarterback sneak to give the Mustangs a 21-14 advantage at the half.Browning’s field goal gave the Mustangs a 21-14 lead going into halftime.
Defense would reign supreme in the third quarter, with neither team scoring. That didn’t mean they weren’t trying. With 4:42 left in the third, the Jaguars were in Mustang territory and threatening to get closer. On fourth down at the 37, Lakewood blitzed the Jaguars’ QB, sacking him and giving possession of the ball back to the Mustangs.
The fourth quarter saw Taryn Laws, who had 22 carries and 127 yards rushing on the night, dash into the end zone on a 1-yard gain. With yet another Browning field goal, the Mustangs extended their lead to 31-14 with 10:45 left. Browning added yet another field goal, this one for 41 yards, to make it 34-14. The Jaguars, despite being down by 20, refused to go quietly. They scored their final touchdown of the night with 49 seconds left in the game. But it was too little too late, and within seconds, the Mustangs registered the win and improved their record to 2-1.
“We made the decision the day after the Southeast game to go with Larson,” Trent said. “We didn’t want to go into a week of practice not knowing who was going to be our quarterback. He plays baseball and has a great arm. I thought he threw the ball real well.
“I liked the fact that everyone stepped up,” he said. “We’ve gone over situations like this during practice, when guys get hurt and everyone else needs to step up. You never know how it’s going to go until you’re on the field, but I think they all rose up to the challenge.”
Larson said he was happy to help the team.
“I pretty much spent the whole week learning all the plays, learning the defense,” he said. “I definitely thought the two touchdowns to Skokos were a big part of our win. It set the tone of the game early.”
Skokos, who had five carries and 106 yards rushing, agreed.
“I’m glad that coach gave me the chance to step up,” he said. “We came into this game with a determined mindset to win after last week.”
Lakewood looks to keep the momentum going when it faces off against Ida Baker in Cape Coral Sept. 24. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.
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