WINDERMERE — For a moment, it looked as though the Lakers might just pull it off.
After trailing St. Stephen’s Episcopal 46-28 to enter the fourth quarter, Windermere Prep seemed like a changed group on both sides of the ball. The offense was bolstered by a pair of bruising runs by Leon Searcy that ended with the Lakers in the end zone and the defense, which looked uninspired at times in the third quarter, seemed ignited.
When Zach Heaney bullied his way into the endzone with 3:30 to play to cut the lead to five, 46-41, it looked as though Windermere Prep might continue on its winning streak from a season ago.
But then St. Stephen’s quarterback Fred Billy, who had tormented the Lakers’ defense throughout the day, did so twice more. First, Billy kept it himself on a third-and-6 after Windermere Prep had expended two timeouts. Then, on the next play, he trotted into the endzone and effectively ended any chance the Lakers might have had of going undefeated again in 2015.
The 53-41 loss was the program’s first since the 2013 season. The Lakers, who look dramatically different from a season ago after nearly all of their skill position players graduated, will hope to learn from this loss.
“There are a lot of positives we took from this game,” head coach Jacob Doss said. “When these new freshman players or first-time players are in the game, they’ve got to understand that we’re going to get everyone’s best shot; every single time.”
The game finished on Saturday afternoon after being suspended a day before in the first quarter due to lightning.
Perhaps the biggest thing that will haunt Windermere Prep this week will be poor tackling — the Lakers had enough trouble keeping up with the speed of Billy and his talented teammates without letting them go when they did get their hands on them. Compounding things, Windermere Prep was without Mitchell Darrow, lost to a should injury during the first quarter on Friday, and Rylan Thomas, who is being held out until fall baseball season concludes. Both players are standouts on each side of the ball, but the Lakers could have used the two on defense, especially.
“We flipped some guys around on defense to cover (Darrow) up … We’re not a team that has 60 kids so we’ve got to have our backup’s backup ready,” Doss explained. “Anytime you lose our offensive MVP and defensive MVP, like Rylan and Darrow, it’s definitely some holes to fill.”
While Windermere Prep left something to be desired on defense, the offense seemed to progress as the game went on and some newcomers helped to shoulder the load being left to standout senior quarterback Parker Davis. In addition to Heaney, who rushed well, Searcy and Matthews Peres, a freshman, also provided some spark carrying the ball.
“Mathews stepped in as well as a kid named Leon Searcy,” Doss said. “Those are the positives that we are going to take away from this game.”
Encapsulated in one game, Doss and his staff saw the good and the bad his team has to offer this fall. Where the team’s lackadaisical stretches are what led them to fall behind by as many as three possessions, the Lakers also displayed a resilience late in the game that fueled the comeback effort — a resilience upon which Doss hopes to build on going into next week’s home game against All Saints.
“There’s obviously always going to be things that go bad and it’s all about you respond to the adversity,” Doss said. “We have got to learn how to become hungry again and how to battle adversity.”