Inside Preps: Lake Wales Overcame Adversity to Stay Alive
Wed. November 28, 2012 at 10:43 p.m. | By Solange Reyner
Raise your hand if you were surprised to open up the newspaper Saturday morning and read that Lake Wales' football team was the only one from Polk County left in the playoffs?
(I'm hoping a lot of you did actually pick up the paper.)
Well, I'm raising my hand with you.
I thought this would be a down year for the Highlanders. They started the season 0-2 and kept turning the football over all season long.
They also lost the district title game to Auburndale, 21-0, on Nov. 2.
I'm not the only one who thought that way.
"I'd be silly to say I wasn't surprised," Lake Wales coach Rod Shafer said Wednesday night in his classroom at Lake Wales after football practice, a big grin stretched across his face.
"We went through a time where all our linebackers were hurt, we played poorly against Auburndale and we quit in the final quarter against Winter Haven."
But the playoffs gives you a chance to erase the past. And Lake Wales has made its way, under the radar I think, through some pretty tough teams to get one step away from the state semifinals.
The Highlanders beat a tough Southeast team in the quarterfinals on the road then defeated a tough Palmetto team in the semifinals, even without their starting running back.
Now Immokalee stands in their way.
It's the same team Lake Wales beat 19-14 earlier this season in a rain-soaked, turnover-filled affair.
So how did the Highlanders get here?
Linebacker Jonte Sergeant said by playing assignment football.
"At the beginning of the season we weren't playing together. Then we started holding people accountable and it changed," he said.
Lineman Bobby Leath said the offense has slowly been finding a rhythm.
"The offense took time but we've really been running the ball well," he said.
Lake Wales has also been limiting the mistakes. Sure, the team has fumbled the ball five times in the playoffs, but they have recovered four of those, and quarterback Railond Garrett hasn't thrown any picks.
He did go 3 for 10 against Palmetto but two of those completions were for touchdowns.
Shafer said his defense has kept them in games.
"They've been the strength of our unit," he said. "Our offense hasn't given the defense a bunch of points but they've given them enough points to work with."
The defense will get a tough test in its rematch against Immokalee.
But it's nothing the Highlanders can't handle, Shafer said.
"They like to throw the ball a lot, but Palmetto threw the heck out of the football, and Southeast threw the heck out of the football the week before," he asid. "So we're used to it."
Are they used to the naysayers, too?
"A lot of people told us early on that we weren't going to be as good as last year," sophomore safety Marcus Walker said.
"We didn't listen."