AVON PARK - The Highlands Youth Football and Cheer Organization (HYF) hosted the Lakeland Patriots at Joe Franza Stadium on Sept. 14.
The first team to see the gridiron was the Flag team (ages 5 and 6), led by coach Steve Remes. The Eagles came out with a purpose behind the quintet Josh Hernandez, Leon Harris, Deangelo Cohen, Keldrice Legree and Damari Cohen.
The Eagles quickly went up 7-0 thanks a score from Legree, but the Patriots answered soon after with a score of their own to tie the game.
After Harris scored a touchdown to put the Eagles up 14-7, the team's defense settled in. But the Patriots again found a way to score, tying the game at 14 all.
The Patriots snagged a 20-14 lead late in the third quarter, but the Eagles put together a long drive, punctuated by a long run from Damari Cohen to score and take a 21-20 advantage.
With only a handful of minutes left in regulation, the Patriots were facing a critical fourth down when one of their running backs managed to escape to the sidelines and scamper down field for a touchdown. The late score gave the Patriots at 26-21 victory.
Following the flag team was the Mighty Mites (7-9), who were under the direction of Bronson Smith. After last week's loss against the Bulls, The Eagles took the field against the Patriots with redetermined focus.
The Patriots offense came out strong to take an early 7-0 lead. Paced by Landon Young, Solan Hunter, Celeb Rojas, Devin Castellanos, and Kaleb Reed, the Eagles worked together to shutdown several Lakeland drives. On offense, behind Isiah Peete and Fred Hankerson, Highlands made progress on offense, as Hankerson and Peete gained key yardage on the ground.
Taking a 7-0 lead into the half, the Patriots extended their lead to two scores when they went up 14-0 early in the third quarter. The Eagles defense rallied, forcing a fumble, but Highlands couldn't capitalize on the turnover. The Eagles found themselves in Patriots territory late in the game, but failed to score, and lost another heartbreaker.
Guided by coach Tim Hooks, the Pee Wee team (10-11) looked eager to take the field. But their energy didn't translate into stellar play, as the Patriots thumped the Eagles 32-0.
There were a few bright spots, however, as Highlands quarterback Graisin Wheelock looked solid in the pocket, while defensive stalwart Jacob Bennett made several key tackles and finished the game with an interception.
Following the Pee Wee game, the Junior Varsity team (12-13) and coach Cliff Howell took the field against the Patriots. The game got off to a great start, as the Eagles drove down field easily behind quarterback Norris "Fish" Taylor, to take an early 6-0 lead. But the Patriots would respond with a score of their own to go up 7-6.
The game turned into a defensive battle from there, as Kevin Webb, Kyle Rodriguez, Austin Oppold, and Marquis Hawthorne helped the Eagles defense shut out the Patriots for the rest of the half.
Lakeland opened the second half with a kick off return for a touchdown to give the Patriots at 13-6 advantage. While the Eagles defense held for the rest of the game, the offense was never able to recover, as Highlands eventually fell 13-6.
The Varsity Eagles (13-15), coached by Nick Bailey entered the afternoon also ready for a battle.
Behind the offensive trio of Niyke Echavarria, Rafael Smith, and Tremaine Hawthorne, a stifling Patriots defense thwarted all of the Eagles offensive endeavors.
Thanks Anthony Healy, Christian Rivera, Nate Smith and Rodrigo Nolan, the Eagles defense played well early. But the Patriots eventually found a way to score and take a 7-0 lead.
The Eagles responded with a touchdown from Hawthorne, who broke several tackles to tie the score. The game remained locked at 7 all until late in the fourth quarter, when the Patriots found their way into the end zone again to go up 14-7. While the Eagles responded with a strong final effort, it ultimately fell short, and they were defeated.
The Eagles will played again last weekend, also at Joe Franza Stadium. Results were not available at press time. Games usually start at 9 a.m. and admission is $4 for adults and $3 for children.