There was plenty on the line as the Bartow Yellow Jackets traveled to Lake Wales to take on the Highlanders. Bartow wanted to even their season at 5-5 while the Highlanders wanted to get back on the winning track in an effort to gain momentum for the upcoming playoffs.
The evening started with senior night as the cheerleaders and football team were honored. The band was scheduled to be honored during the halftime celebration, keeping the night’s activity on schedule.
When kickoff time arrived, Lake Wales would get the ball after Bartow deferred to the second half. Bartow’s kicking team was offsides at the start and Bartow committed a face mask penalty as Earnest Hamilton brought the ball out to the 36. The penalty moved the ball across midfield. Lake Wales opened on the ground with Jonte Sergeant carrying to gain three yards. Lake Wales was forced to punt and a bad kick established Bartow at the 21. Michael Walker picked up 4 and Lake Wales jumped offsides to set up second and one as Walker darted for a first down. Keyshawn Martin got into the game and added 13 yards on a third down carry. The drive stalled at the 35 as Graham went to quarterback, but gained no ground, setting up a fourth and 10, but Bartow elected to go for it. Dimitri Leverett could not hook up with Vontarius West, so Railond Garrett and the Highlander offense returned to the field with 6:10 to play in the first quarter.
After an incomplete pass, Tony Reeves carried twice to get the first down. Sergeant went to work and picked up 11 yards in two carries. Garrett went back to pass, then decided to run. He lost the handle but an alert Sergeant grabbed the ball at the 31 for another Highlander first down. A pair of plays gained three years each. With Lake Wales in the I formation, the handoff went to Reeves who found an opening and burst through for a 25-yard touchdown. The Tate Mathewson extra point made it 7-0 with1:50 left in the first quarter.
Eric Rookard took the kick and posted a big run back to the 35. Leverett hit Jeramy Williams on successive plays to bring the ball to midfield. Bartow ran two plays for no gain to end the first quarter. Alex Montes was called on for his first punt, which was downed at the 16.
Lake Wales had a three-and-out and Mathewson’s punt was a lot better than his first try. Receiver Vontarius West made a dangerous diving catch to get Bartow at the 45. A false start after a Walker five yard gain set Bartow back. The Jackets went to the air as Leverett and Roy’Qies connected for a first down. Walker ran for a double digit gain. Leverett found Dwayne Daughtry who fumbled. Jermel Moment collected the ball and ran it back to the 46. The Highlanders followed a Reeves short gainer with an attempt to start up the passing game. A short pass to Brandon Hadley got two and Garrett missed a connection with Phillip Jones. Mathewson punted to the end zone. Bartow started their drive on the 20. Walker got one, but Bartow’s fourth penalty set the team back to second and long. Playing on defense, Sergeant tipped a pass. Leverett went over the middle to find Graham for 19 yards. Khalil Holt made his first carry count with 11 yards. He got the ball again for a four-yard gain. The drive stalled and Montes kicked to Marcus Walker. The receiver made several would be tacklers miss, heading up the near sideline for a 53 yard return. Bartow was called for face mask and Lake Wales was in business at the 18. Two short gains led to Justin Henderson’s first carry and he nearly gave the Highlanders a TD, wrestled down at the one. Sergeant sealed the down with a one yard plunge. Only 39 seconds were left in the half when Mathewson added the extra point to give the Highlanders a 14-0 advantage.
That lead didn’t last as Vontarius West grabbed the ball at the 7 and went 93 yards along the Bartow sideline to put Bartow on the board. The Montes kick made it a 14-7 game with 24 seconds to go. Lake Wales opted to let the clock run out and prepare to kick off to start the second half.
Mathewson’s kick went into the end zone to deny a return. Michael Walker gained a couple and Graham caught a short pass. On the third down play, the ball was fumbled and a mad scramble saw the ball end up in the hands of Lake Wales defender. A pair of running plays with Reeves and Garrett was offset by the first penalty for Lake Wales. It put the ball at the 20 and the Highlanders couldn’t gain ground. Mathewson was called on for a 37 yard field goal attempt and his aim was true. Lake Waled led 17-7.
As Bartow set up shop at the 20, a short run led next to a pass that appeared to be a Lake Wales interception for a touchdown. The officials decided there a pass interference before the change of possession and Bartow kept the ball. Leverett connected with Martin to gain 14, then Leverett kept the ball for a 28 yard gain. Leverett might have broken it for a touchdown, but Dakarial Scott made a saving tackle. Holt carried to set up third and short, but Leverett was snowed under by Shaka McGriff for a 10 yard loss. Bartow sent Montes to try a 33 yard field goal, which was no good.
The change of possession put Lake Wales in business at the 20. Tony Reeves came to the right, then cut back across the field, dashing 80 yards for another Highlander score. Mathewson’s point was automatic at 3:30 and Lake Wales possessed a formidable 24-7 advantage.
Bartow’s next set of downs resulted in three plays and a punt to the 45. Already in Bartow territory, the Highlanders were looking to drive a stake into the opponent’s hopes. A trick play saw Garrett pitch the ball to Reeves who heaved it to Brinson, who caught it despite interference. Reeves carried for four before Garrett targeted Jones in the end zone. The kick came with 39 seconds left in the third with score now at 31-7.
In the fourth quarter, Bartow had to move from their 20 with plays coming from a pass to Malik Mills and a carry by Leverett for double digit gains. Leverett was sacked and nearly taken down by Sargeant on the next play. A pass to Quincy Childs fell incomplete, but Childs slapped defender Brinson and drew unsportsmanlike. The Bartow punt was tipped by Sargeant, resulting in a short kick. Lake Wales went to work eating up the clock and moving the ball. The drive ended with Sargeant’s one yard dive with 4:36 to play. Junior Jonathan Smith was called on for the kick and he nailed it to stretch the lead to 38-7.
Lake Wales went to the bench to allow additional players to gain experience on defense. Bartow showed they weren’t done, adding a 50-yard Leverett to Williams touchdown with 3:28 still to play. The same combination worked for the two-point conversion and the score stood 38-15.
An onside kick by Bartow was fielded by Justin Henderson for a short return into Bartow territory. New quarterback Greg Haff took control of the offense, who kept moving the clock inside two minutes. Lake Wales went to the air and cashed in on a Haff to Marcus Walker throw, which spotted the ball at the four. Henderson scored with 65 seconds to go on a short run. Jonathan Smith added the kick.
Bartow tried to add points, but a pass to the end zone was intercepted by Brinson.
The loss ends Bartow’s season at 4-6. Lake Wales prepares to meet Bradenton Southeast in the first rounds of playoffs in Bradenton.