Lakeland has won three straight state titles, won 45 games in a row and graduated nine division one signees in the class of 2007. The No.1 ranked 5A Lakeland Dreadnaughts have peeled off another eight victories this season for a state record 53 in a row. They will face the second ranked team in 5A, unbeaten Kissimmee-Osceola. The winner will take the Region 8 title.
The Dreadnaughts were projected to lose in week four to 6A second ranked Boyd Anderson. Coach Bill Castle showed an old school quality that longtime successful coaches at any level are well versed. Poor mouthing. He publicly lamented the fact he had scheduled such a game.
A short time later Lakeland dismantled Boyd Anderson with a 30-6 thrashing. The south Florida team did a lot of talking before the game. Not a great move. Their opposition got a good "mad-on." When they arrived at Bryant Stadium they were shown the door fairly quickly.
The Dreadnaughts went on to post wins over Miami Killian, Lake Gibson, a penalty riddled game that saw the return of the Pouncey twins for a visit, and George Jenkins.
Lakeland faced Ridge Community last week at Bryant Stadium, and the Bolts nearly stopped their home win streak. Thanks to some great special teams play by the Dreadnaughts with a blocked punt, onside kick recovery and a clutch field goal in regulation they survived two overtimes with a 22-19 victory.
Perhaps they were looking ahead to a meeting with the Kowboys this week. While Lakeland was battling their opponent was taking a week off after a 34-31 win over Lake Gibson. Certainly the biggest test for them thus far.
Lakeland will need to stop Coch Jeff Rolson's Kowboy running back duo of Bubba and Momo. That's Kwamaine Brown and Gerald Thomas.
Brown has rushed for 1,385 yards this season on 133 carries, and Thomas has picked up another 581 yards on 43 carries.
We spoke with Lakeland's assistant head coach and coach of the defensive line Dan Talbot this week. We talked about his team's continued success.
"We're young," he said. "We're a little surprised to be where we are at this point in the season, but it's a testament to the new group of kids we've got and how hard they work. We've had a lot of fun just trying to keep the tradition alive."
When asked about the pressure that goes along with continuing the winning traditions at Lakeland with a young group, "I don't think there is that much (pressure)," he answered.
"There is going to be pressure, and the pressure we put on ourselves. The nice thing this year was that no one expected anything from us."
"Everyone pretty much counted us out because we are so young, and we lost so many seniors. So, there is really no outside pressure. I think it's just the pressure we put on ourselves and really the pressure we put on ourselves to do well is greater than what everybody else could put on us."
The 53 game streak, "Well, it's something we never really talked about and it just happened. Once it was over it was nice. We didn't take too long to talk about it because of the way we got to 53. "The game we played before that we had to come back, and the way it ended in dramatic fashion."
"But we've got a big game this week with No.1 versus No.2, for the district title. For homefield advantage in the playoffs."
"We have a lot at stake, so we didn't have too much time to enjoy it and dwell on it. We'll do that in the off-season and be proud of our accomplishments with our kids, but right now we've moved on to Osceola."
This game is on the radar of every high school football fan in the state of Florida.
"There is going to be a lot of emotion," Talbot said. "A lot of hype for the game. The team that executes well and doesn't turn the ball over. The team that has the minimal mistakes is probably going to win this game. Turnovers and penalties are always a factor. I think whichever team that eliminates those will have the best opportunity to win."
Talk turned to individuals on this team and who has done a good job for the Dreadnaughts.
"It's really hard to single any out, but our quarterback Scooter (Jared) Haggens. He puts a lot of pressure on himself, and he's only a 10th grader. He's been a pleasant surprise."
"Our returners from last year that have had to carry the burden of all the previous teams, and then be surrounded by such a young group. Mike Jensen (DL/TE) who played both ways, Calvin Shaw a returning starter on defensive line."
"Then you've got James Campbell (TE) another returning starter. Jacob Barrett (OL) is another returning starter."
"They've really had to handle a lot of the pressure because they are surrounded by such a young core of kids. We've got some good young kids too, and one being Scooter. I think those four returners have shouldered a lot of the burden and the pressure."
Jason Guzman, T.K. Lamb and Ben McRoy have handled rushing duties for the Dreadnaughts. Guzman carried the ball 93 times for 554 yards, Lamb has 51 rushes for 361 yards and McRoy has another 319 yards on 43 carries.
Quarterback Haggens has rushed for 378 yards on 66 attempts and has comopleted 50 of 91 passint attempts for 733 yards.
Keon Broxton is the leading receiver with 18 snares and 328 yards.
The 12th man is Bryant Stadium and the Dreadnaught fans and their portable battleship that more resmbles a tank. Loud blasts and bells and whistles ring in every point.
The stadium dedicated in 1941 is an intimidating place to play, but if you are a fan and have never been there put a visit here on your schedule. This is a step back into old Florida draped in history and tradition. This is Florida before Disney World, before the big suburban development of central and south Florida.
Much to the coaches chagrin the stands and the path around the field is right on top of the players. For a good-sized stadium this is about as close as you can get to the action.
One thing that will stand out to you as unusual for high school venues is the new half-million dollar jumbotron scoreboard. Replays are always nice to see at a football game, and if you watch games on television or attend collegiate games you begin to depend on them for close calls. You won't miss that at Lakeland.
This should be a great game with a lot on the line. It may actually live up to the hype. Last year's contest resulted in a Lakeland win 7-3 at Osceola.