High School Football

Prep football | Lakewood Ranch Mustangs slip by Gulport Boca Ciega 22-21 in prep football

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The play called for Chad Rex to slip in right up the middle. But when that middle got congested, Lakewood Ranch's sophomore quarterback didn't get flustered.

Rather he showed the poise of an upperclassmen, when he maneuvered his way to an opening on the left side of his offensive line and plowed into the end zone.

It was a crucial two-point conversion right before the first half concluded, and it was also the final points in the Mustangs' Class 6A-District 7 opener against Gulfport Boca Ciega on Friday.

The tally lifted Ranch past the Pirates 22-21 as a steady downpour arrived at halftime and forced both teams to rely on a heavy ground game for the final two quarters.

The gutsy two-point call from Ranch head coach Shawn Trent was made easier by two consecutive offside penalties by Boca Ciega as the Mustangs lined up for a game-tying extra point attempt.

"Really the second offside penalty was the one that really made the decision to go for the two," Trent said. "We just feel like we can get one yard."

The Mustangs (3-1) were playing catch-up with Boca Ciega before scoring what appeared to be yet another game-tying touchdown just before intermission.

As time wound down to close out the second quarter, Rex lofted a pass to Wyatt McLeod's direction.

Boca Ciega's Kenyatta Anderson, who earlier had blocked a punt that resulted in a Rashawn Jones 15-yard return for a score, attempted to hop the passing lane and intercept Rex.

Anderson could only tip the football, however, and deflected it right to McLeod, who raced to a 50-yard score to set up Rex's plunge.

"It's kind of about time we get one to tip and go our way," Trent said. "We've had plenty tip and go the other way the last couple weeks. It wasn't pretty, and we'll take it."

Then, with heavy rain coming down for the second half, Ranch utilized a workhorse effort from tailback Chris Pearcey.

Pearcey had just nine carries in the first half, but ran the ball 20 times after halftime. He totaled 111 rushing yards for the game.

The ball-control plan was a well-run operation as the Pirates mustered just 16 offensive plays in the second half.

Part of it was the run-heavy Ranch offense, and part of it was a stifling defensive effort that yielded only one play of more than 10 yards in the second half.

Boca Ciega, though, did have a chance in the final minute to score a game-winner, but quarterback Jaire Balloon's only pass attempt of the game was intercepted by Mustangs defensive back Andre Christiano.

The Mustangs then ran the clock out.

Ranch hosts county rival Palmetto next Friday.