High School Sports

Lakewood Ranch rallies from 14 points down to stun Springstead, improve to 2-0

Lakewood Ranch's Justin Curtis looks for a receiver while playing a rain-delayed game against Spring Hill Springstead Friday night.
Lakewood Ranch's Justin Curtis looks for a receiver while playing a rain-delayed game against Spring Hill Springstead Friday night. ttompkins@bradenton.com

First you get buy-in from your assistant coaches. Then the players start to believe. Go 2-0 for the first time in a while – at Homecoming, no less – and fans shouted “Let’s go Mustangs!” as they exited the stadium Friday night. Keep it up and opposing coaches will start grumbling about scheduling Lakewood Ranch.

That’s the enviable position Mustangs head coach Mick Koczersut finds himself in.

Quarterback Justin Curtis flipped his body to avoid a defender and landed in the end zone as Lakewood Ranch continued to flip its fortunes, defeating Spring Hill Springstead 23-21 in a non-district football game Friday night on the Mustangs’ field.

Standing on the sideline after a game that lightning could have canceled, Koczersut said being 2-0 sends a bolt of energy to everyone in Mustang Country.

“The way we have been the last couple of years, this is not only good for our football players to know that they are 2-0 right now,” he said. “We had a pretty good crowd here before the rain started. Hopefully it will keep on going next week” when Ranch hosts North Port in the 7A-District 11 opener Thursday at 7 p.m.

Curtis’ game-winning tumble was for six yards. Travis Freeman followed with a kick.

Ranch’s start is impressive considering that when the Mustangs defeated Bayshore 17-15 on Sept. 2, it was the first time they had won a season opener since 2014.

It didn’t look good early for Ranch as the Eagles built a 21-7 lead. Springstead led 7-0 after the first play from scrimmage on an 80-yard run by running back Isaiah Delgado. Max O’Rourke made the ensuing point-after kick.

The Eagles increased their lead to 14-0 on a 1-yard run by running back Randy Morgan, the Eagles’ workhorse who rushed, unofficially, 18 times for 51 yards.

Ranch got on the scoreboard with 8:01 remaining in the second quarter as Curtis and wide receiver Mickey Koczersut connected on a 5-yard scoring pass. Freeman converted the kick.

Delgado intercepted a Curtis pass and ran it back 55 yards for a touchdown with 11:10 remaining in the third quarter to put Springstead up 21-7. But Chase Sharp countered with a 28-yard touchdown run as the Mustangs clawed back to within seven, 21-14 with 8:46 left in the third.

The Mustang defense held the Eagles on downs with 5:52 left in the third, and Noah Ben-Ghuzzi blocked an O’Rourke punt, resulting in a safety and a 21-16 Springstead lead with 3:02 left in the third quarter.

The game was played after a 1 hour, 40 minute lightning delay. Ranch officials reportedly were determined to play the game – if lightning did not cancel it – because the Mustangs had completed only one game prior to Friday due to repeated thunderstorms on game nights and Hurricane Irma. Springstead, which fell to 2-1, drove for 2½ hours in heavy traffic – and had “bus problems,” Koczersut said – to get to the stadium.

With the victory there was lots to celebrate. But after the stresses of Irma and a rain-soaked season, Koczersut said, “It felt good just to play.”