The Lake Wales Highlanders step outside their district Friday night for a home game against rival Winter Haven at Legion Field.
While the game is important to LWHS because it has a long history against the Blue Devils, it will have no impact on the Highlanders making the playoffs, and that is at the top of their list.
Lake Wales is 3-3 overall but 2-0 in Class 5A, District 10. Because it is a five-team district and two teams go to the playoffs, LWHS is almost certain of getting a playoff berth.
“We would love to play Winter Haven tough,” said Lake Wales Coach Rod Shafer.
“But we have to say that our next important game is against Auburndale.”
Auburndale is in the same district.
The Highlanders are 2-0 with Auburndale 1-0 in the district. Auburndale is 1-4 overall. Mulberry is 1-1, while Poinciana is 0-1 and Tenoroc is 0-2 in the district.
Winter Haven, which is a 6A school, is 4-2 and beat Lake Gibson 35-30 last Friday on the road. The Blue Devils beat Haines City 31-28 and LWHS lost to Haines City 55-20. Both teams scored over 50 in handling Jenkins as the only other common opponent.
Lake Wales had real success against Winter Haven for a long time, but has lost to the Blue Devils four years in a row. Shafer would like to be in a position to dedicate his full effort to playing his Polk County rival, but he can’t afford it.
“It is frustrating to have this many injuries,” Shafer explained. He dressed out only 26 players in an easy win over Poinciana last Friday.
“When everybody is healthy, we’ll have 34. Against Poinciana, we called off the dogs as best we could, but our second team on defense is our first team on offense and it didn’t make too much of a difference.’’
Shafer would love to talk about how important a home game against Winter Haven is, but he just can’t.
“Hopefully, we’ll get everybody healthy at the end of the season and have them for the playoffs. That’s what we have to concentrate on.
“We’ll give Winter Haven all we’ve got. We’ve just got to do what we can with the players we have.”
On top of a long list of injured players that includes Luke Heirs and Marcus Walker, senior Dedric Brinson has been suspended for six games by the state athletic association. Brinson felt he was fouled on a play against Haines City, went to the referee to tell him and collided with the ref, knocking him down. He was given a Level 2 suspension for making contact with a referee. He’ll also be back for the playoffs.
With the depleted numbers, some players have gotten more of a chance. Wide receiver Darion Staten had a career game last Friday against Poinciana with 348 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those TDs came on receptions, including one for 99 yards, and the other was on a 96-yard interception return.
“People didn’t realize how fast he is and how good he is,” Shafer said of Staten. “It was good for him to have a night like that.”