LAKELAND — If Lakeland coach Bill Castle was right, his No. 2-ranked Dreadnaughts weren’t looking ahead to Seffner Armwood nor was it a wake-up call.
Tampa Bay Tech simply was that good.
The Titans scored the most points against Lakeland this season, and they were the only team to lead the Dreadnaughts in the second half.
Lakeland, however, had Demarkcus Bowman and Reggie Kellum, and the defense made stops when it had to as Lakeland prevailed 37-30 over Tampa Bay Tech on Friday night in the Class 7A, Region 2 semifinals at Bryant Stadium to set up a match-up at Armwood next week in the region final.
“Give them credit, they have a good team, a real good team,” Castle said. “We knew that coming in. Their quarterback makes it go, but that No. 6 wore us out.”
Tampa Bay Tech’s defense gave Lakeland all it could handle. Osmanis Aguilera, No. 6, grinded out 144 yards on 32 carries, and quarterback David Wright completed big passes and finished 14 of 28 for 188 yards.
“They tested everybody, the linebackers, the DBs, but as long was we come tougher next week, we should come out with a W,” Lakeland linebacker Shawn Smith said.
Lakeland countered with Bowman’s 174 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries, and Kellum added 83 on four carries. Even Jha’Kari Martin’s 43 yards on six carries proved valuable in the second half.
Bowman rushed for 154 of his yards and three of his touchdowns to lead Lakeland to a 21-13 halftime lead.
Despite the Titans’ offensive success, Lakeland nearly took control of the game when Arian Smith returned the second half touchdown 90 yards for an apparent touchdown, but a penalty — a familiar refrain on the night — brought the ball back to the Lakeland 37, and another penalty on the first play of the half put the ball back on the Lakeland 20.
The Dreadnaughts were penalized 16 times for 163 yards, including six unsportsmanlike penalties.
On the second play of the second half, Michael Moment intercepted a screen pass by Chayil Garnett and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown, and it was a one-point game with Lakeland leading 21-20.
Lakeland fumbled away a pooch kick on the ensuing kickoff. The Titans took over at their 43 and drove to the 2 where the drive stalled. Andrew Alhomsi kicked a field goal to give the Titans the lead, but Tampa Bay Tech couldn’t maintain the momentum.
Fenley Graham returned the next kickoff to midfield. Kellum sparked the drive with a 22-yard run, and Bowman later scored form the 2 and Lakeland was quickly back on top.
The Titans then drove from their 30 to the Lakeland 13, but that drive ended when Kendall Dennis intercepted Wright in the end zone.
Kellum again sparked a Lakeland scoring drive with a 45-yard run, and Garnett later scored from the 1 to put Lakeland up, 37-23.
“I’m going to give them all the respect,” Lakeland safety Quadir Hall said. “They were one of the best teams we played. I’m going to give them all the respect. This was the toughest team we played the whole year. We had adversity, and we came back from it.”
Tampa Bay Tech made it interesting when it took over near midfield after Lakeland went for it on fourth down instead of punting. With the short field, Wright, five plays later, tossed a 27-yard touchdown pass with 1:02 to play.
The ensuing onside kick was squib-kicked out of bounds, and Lakeland ran out the clock.
Roy Fuoco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 863-802-7526. Follow him on Twitter: @RoyFuoco.