By RUTH ANNE LAWSON
LAKE WALES — The rivalry between the Sebring Blue Streaks and the Lake Wales Highlanders intensified Friday night. As the game progressed it became more physical with a few cheap shots but the Blue Streaks held their composure and played a clean game and exuded great sportsmanship. The Highlanders defeated Sebring by a very small margin with a final score of 22-21 in the Class 5A Regional Quarterfilnals, knocking the Blue Streaks out of the playoffs and ending their season.
“We came up short,” said an emotional Sebring Coach LaVaar Scott. “These guys played with heart. They came out here and executed the game plan but came up short. I think we had the talent. We are playing with eight seniors so 80% of these guys will be back. We hope this will fuel their fire moving forward.”
On Sebring’s first drive of the game, the Blue Streaks made a few handoffs that brought them to Lake Wales’ 28 yard line. Sebring’s quarterback, Kasey Hawthorne, held on to the ball and brought it all the way to the 3-yard line. The Blue Streaks brought in Johnnie Brown who penetrated the Lake Wales defense and crossed the goal line for a touchdown. The point after touchdown (PAT) was good giving Sebring a 7-0 lead with 4:20 left in the first quarter.
“Hawthorne played offense and defense,” stated Scott. “He was unselfish and tried his best. I tried to take him out and he said ‘Coach I want to go back in.’ He is a strong young man.”
Late in the first quarter Lake Wales attempted to make a pass but Sebring’s Chase Doty made an interception. Unfortunately Sebring ended up punting. The Blue Streaks’ defense was led by Doty, Brown and Hawthorne.
“Right now it’s hard because we only lost by one point,” said Chase Doty. “We put our all into this game and I wish we could have moved on. I know we did our best. I am very proud of this team.
“It is tough to know this was my last game for Sebring. I am sad to see it end but we are all on to bigger and better things. I plan to go to the University of West Florida and if I can’t get a scholarship I plan to walk on.”
Lake Wales handed the ball off to Johnny Richardson who ran the ball to Sebring’s 3-yard line for a 27-yard gain. Richardson ran the ball the final yards needed for a touchdown. The Highlanders went for the PAT but the agile Blue Streak defense blocked the kick maintaining Sebring’s 7-6 lead with 9:05 left in the first half.
The Highlanders took the lead when Richardson broke through two tackles and crossed into the endzone for a 38-yard touchdown. Richardson ran in the two-point conversion claiming a 14-7 lead for Lake Wales with 3:08 left in the first half.
A flag on the kickoff pushed Lake Wales back to their own 35. Sebring made a few quarterback keeps pushing the Blue Streaks to the Highlander 13. Hawthorne held on to the ball once again and crossed into the endzone for a touchdown, the PAT was good tying the game at 14 going into halftime.
On Sebring’s longest drive of the night a few handoffs, a couple quarterback keeps and several first downs brought the Blue Streaks to the Highlander 9 yard line. Hawthorne stepped out of the pocket looking for an open receiver and was rocked by an aggressive tackle pushing Sebring back to the 13 yard line. Hawthorne shook the tackle off and connected with Jaray Harrison who caught the ball deep in the endzone for a Blue Streak touchdown. The PAT was good reclaiming the lead for Sebring with a score of 21-14 with 5:28 left in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter Lake Wales restored their lead. The Highlanders pushed their way to the Sebring 3 yard line where quarterback, Eric Williams, ran the ball in for a touchdown. Lake Wales went for the two-point conversion, handing the ball off to Richardson who crossed the goal line giving the Highlanders a 22-21 lead with 7:24 left in the game.
The game got ugly and tensions grew. On the kickoff Sebring’s Lockett snagged the ball and took off but was hit hard resulting in the ball coming loose. The Blue Streaks recovered the ball but it was on their own 1-yard line. Sebring tried to get away from their own endzone but the Lake Wales defense held them there. Sebring brought in Cam Kimbrell at quarterback and tried to pass to Hawthorne but was unsuccessful. Kimbrell was body slammed onto his head by the Lake Wales defense but no flag was thrown.
Lake Wales defeated Sebring 22-21 and at the end of the game the coaches opted to not have the players shake hands to prevent a fight. The unsportsmanlike behavior continued on the Lake Wales side with chants and taunting as the Sebring players and coaches quietly left the field.