Despite a hard-charging first quarter, Lakewood fell flat after half-time and Pender celebrated a homecoming victory Friday, 38-17.
A stoic Leopard head coach, James Lewis seemed to accept that this just wasn’t his team’s night to win.
“Our boys played hard, but I knew Pender had a good football team. It was just one of those nights. We had that fumble on the 10 and then that freaky interception … We’ll just keep battling and get ready for Union next week,” he said.
This brings Lakewood’s record to 6-3 in the conference.
The Leopards started out strong, scoring a touchdown and point after on their first drive down the field after just a little more than four minutes had ticked off the clock. Haywood Mack ran it in from about 10 yards out and Rivera sliced the uprights.
Pender answered with a touchdown run on their next drive, rushing down the middle from about 18 yards out, but the 2-point conversion failed.
Lakewood senior Kevin Murphy took the kickoff return and raced 77 yards back down the field for a touchdown. This brought the score to 14-6 with 2:44 left in the first quarter.
The Leopard defense managed to hold the Patriots for most of the second quarter and the black and gold’s offense was on the verge of scoring when a fumble near the goal line gave Pender the ball, and the momentum shifted. The Patriots pushed to mid-field and Devone Hensley broke free and raced down the sideline for a touchdown. This time the 2-point conversion succeeded and the score was tied at 14 with 2:45 left in the first half.
Lakewood got another chance to score with only three seconds left on the clock. Quarterback J.J. Tanner threw a pass into the end zone, but Pender was called for interference. The Leopards regrouped and Rivera kicked a field goal, ending the half with Lakewood leading 14-17.
Two plays and a penalty against the Leopards put the Patriots in the red zone again. Once again, Hensley rushed in for a touchdown and the 2-point conversion was good. With 9:07 showing in the third quarter, the scored jumped to 22-17.
Lakewood couldn’t convert on their next possession and the Patriots took over near their own 30-yard line. Five plays later and Hensley crossed the goal line again on a 19-yard touch down run. With 1:49 left in the third quarter, the Patriots took a big 30-17 lead.
That “freaky interception” occurred just as the third quarter was winding down. Tanner passed to No. 8, junior Jabriel Cooper. He was hit as he turned to run up field, but managed to stay on his feet for a few strides, but was hit again. This time the ball came loose, flying into the air, and Pender’s No. 8 caught it and ran back to mid-field before getting tackled.
The Leopards managed to stop the Patriots on that drive and took over on their own 18, but a pass interception gave the ball back to Pender and they scored one more time on a 4-yard run up the middle. The 2-point conversion worked and the final score was 38-17.
Damion Bennett was the leading rusher for the Leopards with 10 carries for 80 yards. Nikin Henry followed with 17 for 59; Haywood Mack was 3 for 19; Stefan King, 1 for 11; and Deshaun Wilson, 1 for 7.
For the Patriots, Hensley had 9 for 110; and Sam Dixon had 17 for 66. The Patriots quarterback was 11 for 65.
Tanner threw 3 completions out of 12 attempts for 78 yards with 1 interception. Mack caught one for 32 yards; Cooper caught one for 25 yards, and Murphy caught one for 11 yards.
On defense, Malique Taylor stepped up and got 8 tackles and 1 sack; Austin Tanner had 5 tackles and 1 sack; Cody Barnett had 5 tackles and 1 fumble recovery; Trace Faircloth and David Rivera each had 6 tackles; and Cory Kinnaman had 5 tackles. Jira Cooper had 1 fumble recovery.
It’s senior night next Friday at Lakewood as they host Union. Game time is 7:30 pm and admission is $5.