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Cavaliers drop another tight game

Another game, another slice of heartbreak for the Lakeland High football team. The Cavaliers, whose 20-14 loss to visiting Grassfield wasn’t sealed until the final minute Friday, dropped to 1-3 overall and 1-2 in the Southeastern District.

After an opening night defeat of Hickory, Lakeland has lost three close contests. Last week’s road setback was against Maury, which intercepted a Neil McKoy pass and scored the winning points in the closing seconds.

Friday’s result was overshadowed by concern for injured Cavaliers senior Cedric Johnson, who was immobilized and taken to a hospital by ambulance late in the game.

Johnson, a running back and linebacker, was hurt when he and teammate Jordan Patrick collided while making a tackle on a running play. Johnson moved his limbs and torso after the play and the Lakeland medical staff said he suffered a possible neck injury.

Two plays later, the Cavaliers forced a punt and took over on their own 22-yard line with four minutes remaining. Lakeland managed three first downs, the last on a pass interference call against Grassfield that gave the hosts first down and goal at the Grizzlies’ 9-yard line with 50 seconds on the clock.

Rufus Artis was thrown back for a 1-yard loss on first down and on second down, McKoy threw across the middle and into the end zone, looking for receiver Tyrece Shepherd. However, Grassfield safety Dante Adams made a diving interception in front of Shepherd with 42 seconds left and the Grizzlies ran out the clock to improve to 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the district.

While Grassfield was no meek opponent, the Cavaliers will doubtless feel that they beat themselves. Lakeland committed 10 penalties for 80 yards and Dontarius Boone fumbled a punt late in the third quarter. That play not only deprived the Cavaliers of possession, but led to the Grizzlies’ final points on David Eberhardt’s second field goal of the night.

“We’re killing ourselves!” shouted Lakeland coach Glenwood Ferebee immediately after Boone’s bobble.

Lakeland injuries also played a role in the contest. Regular contributors Asaad Graham, Jacquan Demiel and Brandon Holland sat out with injuries. Two-way lineman Justin Kee and McKoy struggled through the pain of knee injuries suffered during the game.

Lakeland opened the scoring in the first minute when Johnson caught a slant over the middle and ran 80 yards for a touchdown, followed by Jake Estienne’s extra point. Grassfield managed Eberhardt’s first field goal for a 7-3 score after four minutes.

Grizzly running back Tucker Spruill, who ran for a game-high 145 yards in 22 carries, hurdled Boone en route to a 75-yard touchdown run four minutes into the second quarter. Eberhardt’s kick made gave the visitors a 10-7 lead.

Grassfield went up 17-7 just 14 seconds before halftime. Quarterback Terrell Johnson, who completed only 5 of 10 passes for 25 yards, ran for a 5-yard touchdown to cap a 7-play, 64-yard drive. Eberhardt booted another extra point.

Lakeland made it a one-possession game when McKoy hit Shepherd for a 55-yard touchdown pass with 8:36 to play. Estienne’s point after make the score 20-14 Grassfield and had the home crowd suddenly on its feet, cheering and stomping. Shepherd finished with a game-high 78 yards in three receptions.

The Cavaliers go on the road to face Western Branch next Friday. The Bruins beat Deep Creek 55-6 on Friday to improve to 4-0.