The Lake Wales Highlanders started play in Class 5A, District 10 in spectacular fashion Friday night.
LWHS scored on the opening kickoff and manhandled Mulberry 55-0 at Legion Field. The game was never a real contest though the mercy rule for a continuous running clock was not enacted until the fourth quarter.
The Highlanders are 2-2 overall, but 1-0 in district. The Panthers dropped to 1-3, 0-1.
Lake Wales, which had just 31 players dressed out, went to the bench early and often. And even that didn’t help Mulberry. The Panthers had only two first downs in the game, and one of those came on a 15-yard penalty
Earnest `Bo’ Hamilton caught the opening kickoff on the 2 yard line and rambled 98 yards for a touchdown. Just 14 seconds into the game, LWHS had a 7-0 lead.
Before the Highlanders’ offense ever took a snap, they had a 14-0 lead. Only a minute after the quick opening TD, a bad snap on a Mulberry left the ball rolling around and Davi’on Riley scooped it up and stepped into the end zone for Lake Wales’ second touchdown of the game with 10:49 left in the first quarter.
When LWHS did get the ball on offense, it scored on every possession and never punted. A 13-yard run by Justin Henderson gave the home team a 20-0 lead and on the first play of the second quarter Henderson ran a yard for his second TD of the night for a 27-0 difference.
Henderson scored again on an 8-yard run midway through the second quarter and the Highlanders scored their sixth touchdown of the first half on a 3-yard run by Henderson for a 41-0 halftime score.
The stats were as lopsided as the score in the first half. The Highlanders ran for 129 yards and passed for 33 for 162 yards total offense before intermission. LWHS had nine first downs.
In the same time frame, Mulberry had no first downs and had 19 yards total offense. Offsetting that, the Panthers lost 22 yards on penalties, putting them in the hole. The visitors tried three passes in the first half with no completions and one interception. They didn’t complete a pass in the second half.
It looked like the Panthers might get a break early in the second half. After they fumbled the ball to Lake Wales, the Highlanders fumbled it right back. Justin Smith of Mulberry scooped it up and had a clear field, but he was tackled from behind at the 15.
In three plays, Mulberry lost 3 yards. When the Panthers lined up for a field goal try, the kick was blocked, Dedric Benson grabbed the ball and ran 71 yards for another Lake Wales touchdown and a 48-0 score.
Mulberry did finally get its first first down late in the third quarter, but it came on a 15-yard penalty against LWHS. Three plays later, the Panthers actually earned a first down with the Highlanders freely using backups. But Mulberry fumbled to end its first drive of the game.
Leon Hawthorne, a backup running back, scored on a 2-yard run to put Lake Wales on top 55-0 with 8:37 left in the game.
The Highlanders go outside District 10 again next week with a trip up the road to Haines City. They play a district game again in two weeks at Poinciana. Both games begin at 7 p.m.