LAKEWOOD RANCH -- In the biggest football game of his life, Daron Lowery Jr. might have to abandon family ties for one night.
The Lakewood Ranch running back will be facing Palmetto in a near-must-win game if the Mustangs hope to make the playoffs.
The 5-foot-8, 205-pound junior has a history with Palmetto that won't go away. His father, Daron Lowery Sr., was a running back for Palmetto in the late 1990s and brother Josh Hicks was Palmetto's leading rusher last season.
Lowery played his first two years at Palmetto before transferring to Lakewood Ranch. He was a linebacker for the Tigers last year, but missed nearly the entire season with a back injury.
"I think they (father and brother) want Palmetto to win but want me to do well," Lowery Jr. said.
If Palmetto wins, Lakewood Ranch and Lowery
likely will be home for the playoffs, so the youngster is not worried about who is rooting for whom.
"They've changed their defense a lot, so it's not any advantage for me that I played there. Their defense is real quick and fly around a lot," Lowery said.
Lakewood Ranch has had little to no success against Palmetto on the football field.
The Mustangs have lost seven of eight games between the teams with Palmetto's average margin of victory 33 points. Lakewood Ranch's only win was a 17-13 road triumph in 2009.
The Tigers have won four straight meetings since then, outscoring the Mustangs 131-40.
The Lakewood Ranch game plan is no secret. The Mustangs hope to exercise ball control and try to keep the ball out of Palmetto's explosive playmakers as much as possible.
"It's pretty simple. We have to control the ball, not have turnovers and avoid giving up big plays," Lakewood Ranch head coach Mick Koczersut said. "Palmetto is a team you can hold and suddenly they go 70 yards. They can beat you with four plays. The message to our kids is play hard and smart and enjoy football. It's not complicated."
The best way for Lakewood Ranch to play ball control is take advantage of its big offensive line and use the talents of running backs Justin Fischer and Lowery and quarterback Chad Rex.
Fischer is following in the footsteps of his older brothers, Ryan and Steven, who played at Braden River. He is averaging 6.4 yards per carry with four touchdowns.
Fischer is more of finesse, open-field runner and starts. Lowery comes in later in the game and tries to mow down defenses with his between-the-tackles running. Lowery has gained 105 yards on 19 carries (5.3-yard average) with four touchdowns.
The only undefeated teams left in the five-team Class 7A-District 10 are Braden River and Palmetto. The Mustangs lost to Braden River earlier in the season.
"This is a must-win. If we don't win, we don't go to the playoffs," Fischer said. "I've been having a good year because of my offensive line. They are bigger and experienced. I've also been flipping tires. It's a good way to get strong. Daron is good at pounding it into the end zone."
Palmetto has always given Ranch problems because of its speed. But the Mustangs have what might be their quickest secondary, and Koczersut is hoping that can make things different.
"Palmetto is always very fast, and teams that are fast tend to give us trouble," Koczersut said. "Justin and Daron are both doing a good job, and we have a lot of experienced guys (seven) that rotate on the offensive line. Daron's work ethic is great. He has given me some hard decisions to make (regarding playing time), but those are decisions you like to make."