AVON PARK - The Red Devils ended their scoring drought on Friday night, but still fell handily to Lakeland Christian by a score of 49-14 at Joe Franza Stadium.
"It's nice to score two touchdowns in the second half, but I told the guys, I was embarrassed by the first half," Avon Park coach Wade Jackson said. "We came out, and instead of going out and making things happen, we waited for things to happen, and you can't do that."
Despite the frenzied atmosphere inside Joe Franza Stadium from the homecoming festivities, the game got off to an ominous start. The Class 3A Vikings wasted little time in scoring, as R.B. Marlow returned the opening kick 95-yards for a touchdown.
Seemingly deflated by the quick score, the Devils struggled to find a rhythm on offense. After a quick three-and-out, a bad punt gave Lakeland Christian excellent field position, and T.J. Simmons scampered in for a 20-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 14-0 only five minutes into the first quarter.
Avon Park had a new quarterback under center in junior Alfred Brown, but aside from a handful of scrambles, Friday night's first half was probably one he'd like to forget.
Facing a fourth-and-eight in Vikings territory, Brown's pass to Mason Jahna was just off his fingertips, and Lakeland Christian took over on downs. The Vikings put together another scoring drive from there, marching into Devils territory, where quarterback Christian Alexander put a touch pass into the hands of Leroy Deshazor the for team's third score of the quarter.
The second quarter saw much of the same from the Vikings.
Powered by Simmons, who had over 100 yards rushing in the first half alone, Lakeland Christian scored 28 points in the second quarter to take a 49-0 lead into halftime.
"We took the blows when we should've been giving them," Jackson said. "But we're changing things around here. It's a process. But it's still disappointing to come out somewhat timid and not do the things that we did in practice this week."
The Devils showed some signs of life in the second half. Paced by Joe Nance and J.C. Cobb, Avon Park rediscovered its ground game. Plowing through the Vikings defense, the Devils churned up field in a hurry, as Nance punched the ball in at the goal line to give Avon Park its first touchdown since the game against Mulberry back on Sept. 6.
But Avon Park wasn't content with just one touchdown.
Backed up in their own end zone, Brown's quick feet let him escape to the sidelines, where he darted down field for a 105-yard touchdown run to give the Devils their second score of the night and end the game on a high note.
"Some of these kids are still learning the game of football, but we're getting better," Jackson said. "They've just got to take what we're doing in practice and bring it to the game field."
Meanwhile, off the field, there was plenty to celebrate. Four gridiron Devils were nominated for the 2013 homecoming court, as Zack Farr, Charles Council, Jahna, and Brown were all finalists to be crowned homecoming king. Brown took home the award, and rode around the track at halftime with his queen, Paige Andrews, as fans and students showered them with cheers.
While Jackson praised the homecoming atmosphere, he noted that he wished his team had played with more passion. But Jackson added that he understands the process of turning a program around he's in it for the long haul.
"What a great atmosphere out here tonight," Jackson said. "We had all this great stuff going on out here. But I wish they would've played a little less timid. You've got to play this game with emotion and passion and heart."
"It's a process. But we're going to keep working at it and keep getting after it. They're going to get better."
Avon Park will have its first Class 4A-District 6 game on Friday against Clewiston. The game will be at Joe Franza Stadium and kick off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.