LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The Lakewood Ranch football team is used to playing games that aren't decided until the final minutes.
It might be time for the Mustangs to learn how to maintain their intensity for a full game after they get a big lead.
Lakewood Ranch had a 28-point halftime lead over North Port, but its offense went stagnant and failed to score in the second half.
Fortunately for the Mustangs, their defense came alive in the fourth quarter, and they held on for a 35-21 victory over the visiting Bobcats on Friday night in a Class 7A-District 10 game.
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"If we don't come out with enthusiasm in the second half we are not as effective," Lakewood Ranch head coach Shawn Trent said. "It's kind of the same thing two weeks in a row. The lanes we created in the first half we weren't creating in the second half. We have four sophomore offense linemen, and I think they thought the game was over at halftime. No matter what we say, it's hard to get young kids to understand we have to play for 48 minutes."
North Port cut its deficit to 35-21 with 20 seconds left in the third quarter. But the Lakewood Ranch defense came alive in the fourth quarter.
Andrew Staggs got a tackle for a loss on quarterback Brennan Simms. Then, on two consecutive possessions by North Port, Max VonDerHofen and Jamie Jeffcoat sacked Simms.
Brandon Luckett put the game away when he intercepted Simms on the Lakewood Ranch 5 and returned it to midfield. It was his second interception of the game, but on his first one in the opening quarter he fumbled it away.
"I knew they would go deep so I just tried to stay deep. I wanted to make up for the one that I fumbled," Luckett said.
The Lakewood Ranch offense was clicking on all cylinders in the first half, when the Mustangs scored on all five of their possessions to take a 35-7 halftime lead.
Cameron Pearcey started the onslaught when he caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Chad Rex. A bad snap on a punt attempt gave Lakewood Ranch the ball on the North Port 12, and two plays later, Wyatt McLeod ran it in from a yard out.
Staggs recovered a fumble on the North Port 43, and seven plays later, Rex scored from a yard out. North Port went 53 yards for a touchdown on a fake punt.
The Mustangs answered with a four-yard run by Rex that capped an 11-play, 79-yard drive that was kept alive when Pearcey caught a 31-yard pass on a fourth and 5.
Lakewood Ranch scored on its final possession of the first when Rex went in for his third touchdown from a yard out. The key play in the drive was a 41-yard pass to Trevor Losada.
Rex continued to show his maturity at quarterback. He completed 10 of 11 passes for 146 yards and rushed for 40 yards on 12 carries.
But the junior did almost all of his damage in the first half, throwing for 137 yards and rushing for 31. Pearcey caught four passes for 76 yards, all in the first half.
In the second half, the Mustangs had only 36 yards of total offense.
"It's probably my fault. I got pretty conservative," Lakewood Ranch offensive coordinator Mic Koczersut said. "We didn't do a whole lot of stuff that we were doing in the first half. We were just running some basic stuff. With a lead like that, I didn't want to give them (North Port) any opportunities."
The victory boosted Lakewood Ranch to 4-2 and 2-0 in district play. The Mustangs face Palmetto (1-0 district) in two weeks in a game that could go a long way in deciding the title. North Port (2-3) has lost both of its district games.