PUNTA GORDA -- The Lakewood Ranch Mustangs raced out to a 20-0 halftime lead and held on for dear life to get their second thrilling victory in a row on Friday.
A belated comeback fell just short as Punta Gorda Charlotte lost to Lakewood Ranch 26-23 in a non-district game.
Lakewood Ranch (3-2) ran the ball well and took advantage of Charlotte penalties and turnovers. But the Tarpons dominated the third quarter and most of the final period. Amari Washington scored on a 10-yard run with 7 minutes, 46 seconds left in the third quarter. Austin Roberts kicked the extra point and Charlotte was trailing 20-7 entering the final quarter.
The Mustangs had a sustained drive in the fourth quarter that ended with Trevor Losada catching a tipped pass from quarterback Chad Rex for a touchdown with 5:28 remaining in the game. The extra point kick was no good, but the Mustangs appeared in good shape.
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Charlotte (2-2) blocked a punt with 3:15 left and Dakari Brown picked it up, rambling 40 yards down the right sidelines for the score to make it 26-13. A two-point conversion pass from quarterback Brennan McGill to Dwayne
Reynolds cut the lead to 26-15. The Tarpons recovered the onside kick. McGill then found Dwight Reynolds inside the five and he caught the ball for the touchdown. McGill connected with Dwayne Reynolds for the two-point conversion that cut the Lakewood Ranch lead to three points at 26-23.
But the Tarpons couldn't stop the Mustangs on a critical third down play and the visitors ran out the clock for the victory.
Lakewood Ranch (3-2) hit the scoreboard first when Justin Fischer banged in from three yards out with 5:03 left in the opening quarter. His score finished a 54-yard, seven-play drive. Ty McLeod scored on a three-yard run and Rex ran it in from 13 yards out to give the visitors an apparently secure 20-0 halftime advantage. But the Tarpons almost pulled it out with their second-half rally.
McGill completed 17 of 29 passes for 204 yards. Dwight Reynolds caught nine of those passes for 117 yards and the fourth quarter touchdown. Rex was effective both running and passing the ball. He ran for 54 yard on 17 carries and completed nine of 15 passes for 112 yards. The Tarpons had 289 yards total offense to 241 for the Mustangs. But only 89 of Charlotte's yardage came on the ground.
"We've got to find a way to win," Charlotte head coach Binky Waldrop said. "We don't believe in moral victories around here."
The Tarpons play at Riverdale next Friday night in their first District 7A-11 contest of the season.