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East County Wednesday, Mar. 13, 2019 11 months ago

Flag football flies at Lakewood Ranch

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Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

Flag football may be thought of as a child’s game, but it is not at Lakewood Ranch High.

For the Mustangs, girls flag football is a Florida High School Athletic Association-sanctioned sport, and the team, coached by Melanie Johnson, takes it seriously. Rightfully so, as the team is ranked 19th in Class 2A by FloridaHSFootball.com. For the program being in its third year of existence, that is exceptional.

The Mustangs hosted Bayshore High March 7, and I attended, wondering just how talented these girls were.

Lakewood Ranch senior Spencer Mauk aims and fires a pass down the left sideline against Bayshore.

I wondered if the Mustangs could handle a physical brand of play. That was answered in the first quarter, when Lakewood Ranch junior wide receiver Doris Brooks took a pass from senior Spencer Mauk up the right sideline and plowed right through two Bayshore defenders before they could rip off her flags. Brooks strutted into the end zone.

Brooks, who also plays linebacker, would later bowl over a defender and also would bring a Bayshore wide receiver to the ground when taking her flags. Yes, these Mustangs can handle contact.

They also have skill. Mauk has a strong arm, and is a solid defensive safety. Both Mauk and Brooks, who are also on the girls basketball team, have played flag football previously, and Mauk’s father, Chris Mauk, is the team’s defensive coordinator. Except for one blown coverage late in the game, the Mustangs played fundamentally sound football, no matter the level of competition. They were quick to fill gaps defensively on run plays, running reverses on offense, and generally looking competent.

This was not backyard football, even though the atmosphere surrounding the game was one of fun.

“It’s harder than people think,” Mauk said. “Playing QB is stressful.”

“You have to be mentally prepared,” Brooks added.

The game plays like tackle football, with a few tweaks. The field is 80 yards, not 100. Teams have to get 20 yards for a first down instead of 10. There are no fumbles; the ball is dead when it hits the ground. There are punts (though the two teams typically went for it on fourth down) but no field goals, kickoffs or extra points. After touchdowns, teams can go for a conversion worth one point (from the 3-yard line), two points (from the 10-yard line) or three points (from the 20-yard-line) points.

On this day, thanks to strong defensive efforts, the game was tied at 7-7 before Bayshore scored with 30 seconds remaining. They would miss a conversion try, but the Mustangs could not respond and lost to the Bruins 13-7. Mauk said the team made too many mistakes. If they get the chance to play Bayshore again, Mauk said, she is confident her team will prevail.

I hope the sport continues to grow. Brooks and Mauk said the practices are less intense than their basketball practices, instead filled with learning skills and schemes. That will happen when you have 35 girls across the varsity and junior varsity level, most of whom are inexperienced. The program is actually in a better position of developing talent than other schools. Johnson said the team had a tough time scheduling games for their JV team because most programs don't have one.

I think that will soon chance. The more people that are exposed to the game, the more people will realize how fun this "non-contact" sport can be. I cannot wait to watch this program grow in the future. 

I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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