Larry Cornelius saw some things he liked and many he didn’t from his Lakewood High School football team in its 14-8 victory over C.E. Murray in the Sumter Sertoma Club's 36th Annual Sumter County Jamboree on Friday on Freddie Solomon Field at Sumter Memorial Stadium.
When it was all said and done though, the first-year Gators head coach put everything into perspective.
“When you’re where Lakewood football is at, any win is a good win, important,” Cornelius said. “It doesn’t matter if that counts or not. I’m happy with us winning this.”
Cornelius takes over a program that is in the midst of a 13-game losing streak and lost 19 of 20 games over the past two seasons. The program has dropped 22 of its last 25 games.
Cornelius has his team practicing to be a fast-paced offense, getting plays off in 15 seconds or less from the official’s whistle. Lakewood hindered itself from doing that against the War Eagles.
“Sloppy, we were awful sloppy on offense,” said Cornelius, who came to Lakewood after a 5-year stay at Mitchell County High in Georgia. “We only had the football three times and we made a lot of mistakes when we did have it. We had six penalties (for 74 yards) and we’ve got to get better at that.
“On the other hand, while we only had the ball three times we scored twice so that’s a good thing,” he added.
Lakewood’s first score came on its second possession. C.E. Murray’s Antonio McKnight fumbled the ball, and Gators linebacker Jamal Anderson picked up the loose ball at the LHS 30-yard line and returned it to midfield.
Running back Trvavius Epps broke off a 20-yard run on first down. After an incomplete pass, quarterback Malik Richardson ran for six yards and then threw a pass to Quentin Hodge for a 9-yard gain and a first down at the 15. The Gators appeared to have a touchdown on the next play, but they were called for holding and had to move back to the 13.
However, they again got into the end zone on the ensuing play and this time it counted. Richardson connected with running back Javontae Jones for the 13-yard TD pass with 1:11 left in the first quarter of the 2-quarter scrimmage. Thomas Burkott added the extra point to make it 7-0.
CEM, a 1A school compared to 4A Lakewood, started at midfield after Lakewood was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the kickoff. It took 11 plays, but the Eagles got in the end zone and stuck in the 2-point conversion for an 8-7 lead with 7:01 left.
Lakewood started at its 35 and needed 13 plays, but managed to reach the end zone again. Richardson threw a 7-yard TD pass, this one to Hodge as the Gators made it 14-8 with 2:35 to go.
Richardson rushed eight times for 30 yards and completed four of nine passes for 29 yards and the two scores.
“I thought our quarterback did a good job with the read option, really doing it only for the second time,” Cornelius said. “We look for him to get better.”
Cornelius said the best surprise for him was the play of the offensive line.
“I was really happy with their performance, especially since they are so young,” he said. “We start a sophomore, a senior and three juniors. We had some issues where we didn’t get the push we wanted, but they did a good job of opening some big holes.”
LHS ran for 102 yards to go with Richardson’s 29 passing yards.
With the defense, Cornelius again saw both good and bad.
“We gave up a lot of yards, but then they only scored once,” he said. “That’s a talented team. They’ve got the South Carolina recruit (wide receiver Darius Rush) and the quarterback and the running back are both very good.”
Lakewood opens its season on Friday in Week Zero on the road against McBee.