For the first time in 2016, Lakewood Ranch prepared for Friday’s game with positive signs. After 10 weeks of preparing for Friday night with a loss as the most recent memory, the Mustangs entered their final game of the regular season at Lakewood Ranch High School seven days removed from playing the role of the bully.
So Lakewood Ranch began Friday’s game against Arcadia DeSoto County with swagger. A typically passing deficient offense completed four passes and the Mustangs marched into DeSoto County territory. The drive eventually stalled, but Lakewood Ranch followed up success with signs of emulating it.
“The whole season didn’t go their way,” head coach Mick Koczersut said. “They did a great job fighting back the last two weeks. A lot of people could’ve given up, and it says a lot about the kids we get to coach here at Lakewood Ranch.”
The Mustangs finished their season with a second straight win Friday, salvaging a campaign winless through seven games with a pair of offensive breakthroughs to end 2016. One week after hanging 42 on North Port — double what Lakewood Ranch had previously scored during the entire season combined — the Mustangs had four different players score touchdowns to beat the Bulldogs, 28-7.
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Three touchdowns were through the air, with wide receiver Kalebe Johnson and tight ends Mickey Koczersut and Nick Hoskins all catching touchdowns from quarterback Justin Curtis. Another was on the ground, a 4-yard plunge to ice the game during the fourth quarter by Mason Fischer, who began the year as a cornerback and started at running back for the third straight game Friday.
It was Curtis, though, who served as the engine to a Lakewood Ranch offense which sputtered through most of the year. The junior completed 14 of 22 passes — all during the first half — for 112 yards and three touchdowns. He ran the ball another 11 times, including a pair of game-ending kneel downs, for another 66 yards.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the most we had him throw,” Koczersut said. “I’d say it’s the most we completed.”
On senior night, the Mustangs (2-7) force fed the ball to a handful of their most prominent seniors. Tackle Sam Jackson, who is verbally committed to UCF, got one carry and helped set up Lakewood Ranch’s first touchdown to Hoskinson, another senior, when he took a fake handoff on a play action.
Johnson, whose promising senior season was somewhat dampened by the Mustangs’ inconsistent offense, finished the year with his finest performance. Curtis found Johnson eight times for 108 yards and a touchdown during the first half alone. After halftime, Lakewood Ranch went exclusively to its running game to run out the clock on DeSoto (2-7).
“We’ve got a lot of kids who are great kids,” Koczersut said. “I wouldn’t trade any one of those kids.”
Progress for the Mustangs offense began three weeks ago when Lakewood Ranch traveled to Sarasota. Despite failing to score on offense against the Sailors, the Mustangs offense started to operate more smoothly with more snaps under center.
It took two weeks for a breakthrough to come, but dividends paid off against the Bobcats on Oct. 28. Lakewood Ranch’s offensive line didn’t have to block for as long, letting the running game develop despite an injury to starter Jay Turner. In turn, Curtis had more time to throw and the Mustangs scored 68 of their 89 total points during the final two games.
Now Curtis and the offense have a baseline to build on heading into the spring. Curtis will be a senior, as will Fischer, who ran for 76 yards to go along with his touchdown.
“It was a pretty rough year,” Curtis said. “We learned a lot.”
Lakewood Ranch 26, DeSoto County 10
LR— Nick Hoskinson 8 pass from Justin Curtis (Tommy Wolfe kick), 4:07
DC— Nirion Washington 73 run (Cesar Barajas kick), 1:40
LR— Mickey Koczersut 4 pass from Curtis (kick failed), 10:22
LR— Kalebe Johnson 4 pass from Curtis (kick blocked), 0:08
DC— Barajas 33 field goal, 9:20
LR— Mason Fischer 5 run (Wolfe kick), 6:13
Rushing: DeSoto County: Washington 16-149, Loquan Griffin 3-8, Elijah Arthur 1-(-6), Nehemiah Hillard 11-41, Torrace Cowart 2-(-4), Tyrese Smith 5-25, Barajas 1-2, Alex Hatcher 1-2, Emmanuel Wesley 1-40, Jon-Shea Reed 1-8, Totals: 42-264. Lakewood Ranch: Fischer 20-76, Curtis 11-66, Sam Jackson 1-0, Chase Sharp 9-41, Totals: 41-183.
Passing: DeSoto County: Washington 4-7-0-17, Totals: 4-7-0-17. Lakewood Ranch: Curtis 14-22-0-113, Fischer 1-1-0-40, Totals: 15-23-0-153.
Receiving: DeSoto County: Hillard 1-(-2), Semaj Elrod 1-11, Cowart 1-3, Wesley 1-5, Totals: 4-17. Lakewood Ranch: 8-108, Ian Griffin 2-20, Fischer 2-2, Hoskinson 1-8, Koczersut 1-4, Blauvelt Georges 1-11, Totals: 15-153.