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Bruins rally to beat Lakeland

Shortly before his Lakeland High football team took the field against host Western Branch on Friday, Cavaliers coach Glenwood Ferebee issued a challenge to his troops.

“We’ve been left with a sour taste in our mouth this season,” Ferebee said, referring to the fact that his team’s three losses were by an average of five points. “It’s time to do something about that tonight.”

Two minutes into the second quarter, Lakeland led the powerful Bruins by a touchdown and must have felt like it was eating straight from the sugar bowl. But by game’s end, that advantage had turned into a 28-14 loss and a drained Ferebee was left to ponder another distasteful defeat.

“We should have had it,” said he first-year coach, whose team dropped to 1-4 overall and 1-3 in Southeastern District play. “There were at least four plays out there that were touchdowns for us if we’d executed.”

Western Branch took a 6-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter and added the extra point. Lakeland’s Neil McCoy threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Dontarius Boone with 47 seconds remaining in the half and Jake Estienne’s conversion kick made it 7-7.

The Cavaliers went up 13-7 just two minutes into the third quarter when Rufus Artis took his first carry of the game 59 yards up the middle. Estienne made another extra point for a 14-7 advantage.

After forcing Western Branch to punt on its next two possessions, Lakeland found itself on its 15-yard line. An Artis run lost three yards and Boone was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, moving the ball back to the Cavaliers’ 6-yard line. Artis eventually had to punt out of his end zone and the poor field position came back to bite the visitors.

To that point, Western Branch standout Javanti Sparrow had been kept in check. But the speedy receiver and return man struck upon fielding Artis’ boot. Sparrow brought the ball back 30 yards and Travis Paige ran for a 1-yard touchdown three plays later as the third quarter ended.

Western Branch (5-0, 4-0) regained the lead at 20-14 with four minutes to play. The Bruins drove 65 yards in seven plays and scored on a 10-yard run by nimble quarterback Michael Brown with the extra point added after. A key moment during the march came when Brown was forced to scramble on third down from his 38-yard line, but somehow wriggled away from three Cavalier tackle attempts and ran for 14 yards.

Desperate for points and throwing out of its own end, Lakeland surrendered the game’s final touchdown when McKoy attempted a fourth-down pass from his 14-yard line and had it intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Kiman Edwards with 2:34 to play.

“When you’ve got a team that hasn’t had a lot of success, the guys tend to panic,” Ferebee said. “We’ve been preaching that you have to play the whole game the way you do in the first half. Teams aren’t beating us; we’re beating ourselves.”

McKoy completed 12 of 34 passes for 96 yards and Artis had a team-high 63 yards rushing in three carries. Boone caught three passes for 34 yards. The Bruins’ Brown completed 5 of 17 passes for 40 yards and ran 24 times for 127 yards. Lakeland, which lost 41-6 to Western Branch last year, travels to King’s Fork next week.