Despite a host of injuries and a multitude of changes, the Class 7A Lakeland Dreadnaughts proved to be a better team than the reigning Class 8A football champions.
Lakeland went 21-0 at halftime and defeated Venice High 31-24 in a spring football competition Thursday at Bryant Stadium.
The win was led by Lakeland quarterback and Ridge Community transfer Zach Pleuss, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns. Daidren Zipperer caught four of those passes for 130 yards and two points.
Pleuss threw a 59-yard TD pass to Zipperer at 7:33 in the first quarter and Lakeland running back Don’Ares Johnson ran 33 yards for a touchdown at 3:15 in the second quarter. Then Pleuss threw Tyler Williams a 10-yard touchdown shot with 20 seconds left to give the Dreadnaughts a 21-0 lead at the break.
“We feel good about it, but it just showed us what we need to work on this summer,” said Lakeland coach Bill Castle. “Obviously we have to clean up any penalties that we received (Thursday night) and just try to build that game and have a good summer of (of) work.”
After Venice got on the board with a touchdown pass early in the third quarter, Pleuss countered with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Zipperer in a third and seventh game with 3:30 left to take Lakeland’s lead to 28 . 7. Lakeland’s last points came on Calum Maldoon’s 26-yard field goal at 8:42 in the fourth quarter.
The final results for Venice included an 18-yard touchdown pass from Brooks Bentley to Keyon Sears at 4:36 in the fourth, a 20-yard field goal from Kirill Kotov with less than three minutes left, and a 20-yard Bentley touchdown pass to Sears with 1.7 seconds in the game in a fourth and tenth game.
Bentley threw for 166 yards and three touchdowns while Sears had six catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns.
“There were some good things and some bad things,” said Venice head coach John Peacock. “It will take some time to get everything up and running and clicking the way we want it. This is the first step of it.”
Here are three observations from the game.
Pleuss continues where he left off
Pleuss was the county’s leading passer for Ridge Community in 2020, and he showed he would be one of the county’s best quarterbacks again. Once he completed seven passes in a row. He sat in the pocket, relied on his mechanics, and made informed decisions under duress throughout the game.
Larry Jones shows he’s one of the best
Jones, an All County linebacker, used his extra strength from the weightlifting season by using his raw power early and often. The defensive enforcer made several key plays on defense, including dismissing Bentley for a 10-yard loss on first down late in the first quarter. Jones also executed a vicious hit before recovering a fumble on a fourth and 28 games late in the third quarter.
Huge scores Venice
Venice only scored in the third quarter, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have chances in the first half. Venice drove down the field early in the second pitch and eventually got the ball near the end zone, but defender Mike Singleton knocked out Bentley in the end zone, effectively thwarting all scoring plans. “I thought our defense played great,” said Castle.
Venice struggled despite new arrivals
With 10 new players and five new starters on the offensive line, Bentley still managed to throw a late touchdown pass that put the Indians on a score, allowing Venice to attempt an onside kick late in the game. Although he wasn’t always accurate with his passes, Bentley was able to climb out of the pocket and throw a few completions that ended in positive mileage. “He did a great job running the ball … tough boy, (and) he made good decisions,” Peacock said.
Sears explodes for big games
Another bright spot for the Indians was the Sears game. The smallest player on the field had a constant knack for opening up and making some stunning moves that would leave defenders in the dust. Sears had four plays of 15 yards or more, including a running play and his two touchdown catches.
A World Cup hangover for Venice
Peacock lost six All-Area players a year ago, including quarterback Ryan Browne and running back DJ Escort, so from the start it looked like Venice was trying to figure out his identity. It seemed that the current group of players were waiting for some of last year’s contenders to come through the door. Still, Venice pushed on and didn’t give up despite being 24 behind at one point in the game. “We’re going to get a lot better out of this game,” Peacock said.
Robert Magobet can be reached at [email protected] or at 856-905-4537. Follow him on Twitter: @RMagobet31