It has not been easy for the Lakeside Dragons when it comes to tangling with the Howland Tigers.
In fact, as the teams prepare to kick off the 2012 high school football season Thursday night at Lakeside Stadium (7, WFUN), coach Ryan David’s Dragons will go into with contest with Lakeside having beaten Howland only once in seven all-time meetings.
Be that as it may, David believes his squad will be ready to answer the bell Thursday night.
“If our players stay focused, which is something our coaches preach every day, and our players rise to the challenge, it will be a great game,” he said.
A year ago, Howland recorded a 33-0 victory against the visiting Dragons, the Tigers using a 14-point first quarter and a 13-point second quarter to build a 27-0 halftime advantage and cruised the rest of the way.
All-Ohio tailback Deveon Smith, a University of Michigan recruit who rushed for more than 1,900 yards and scored 22 touchdowns for coach Dick Angle’s squad last season, scored three of Howland’s four first-half touchdowns in the game last season and piled up 133 yards rushing on only 10 carries.
“Deveon Smith is a great back,” David said of the future Wolverine, a 5-foot-11, 195-pounder who preceded his 1,900-yard season a year ago as a junior with 928 yards on the ground and a dozen touchdowns as a sophomore. “He runs very hard.”
Howland’s quick start, plus 15 Lakeside penalties for 105 yards, were simply too much for the Dragons to overcome last fall.
After a perfect 9-0 regular season last fall (the Tigers did not play a Week 10 game), Howland was eliminated in a Division II, Region 5 quarterfinal at Kent Roosevelt, 30-21. Meanwhile, the Dragons struggled through a 1-9 season. They will carry an 11-game losing streak at Lakeside Stadium into Thursday night’s game, the last win being a 42-13 whipping of visiting Chardon by then-coach Bill Lipps’ squad in Week 9 of the 2009 season on Oct. 23 of that year.
That was then, though, and this is now. With hard-running tailback Chase Knight healthy and ready to again be the main man of Lakeside’s spread attack, a new season brings renewed optimism.
“Howland has another great team,” David said. “They are disciplined, aggressive and they do not make mistakes.
“But I feel last year’s team was better than this year’s team, only because Howland had so many returning starters (a year ago).”
Howland runs a pro-style offense, with a bit of the spread attack mixed in. Defensively, the Tigers run a 50 front, with cover 4 behind it.
Lakeside counter with its aforementioned spread attack on offense, with junior Tyler Loftus at the controls at quarterback, and a 4-4 set on defense.
The Dragons, who lost 12 lettermen to graduation from their 2011 squad, will be without two-way tackle John McCormack — who along with senior Chuck Morgan — is the strongest Lakeside player. McCormack, a 6-foot, 259-pound sophomore, will not play, according to David.
The second-year coach admits he is much more prepared for Game 1, 2012 than he was Game 1, 2011 — his first game as a head coach.
“One thing I have learned is that I am a lot more prepared for this year than last year,” the said. “Because I understand that this is high school football and not college football and that you have to coach and teach differently.”
David and his staff have stressed all offseason accountability, responsibility, etc.
“The reason why we reach accountability and responsibility is first and foremost, is that we want our players coming our or our program to be ready for the real world,” the former Jefferson standout said. “As far as wins and losses, our players are starting to see that when they are (accountable and responsible), they also work hard.
“We are a good football team. The days that we don’t come focused and are irresponsible, they also see that we can be pretty bad.”
Lakeside’s lone win in this series was memorable. Led by tailback Jamarro Spikes, then-coach Jay Corlew’s Dragons recorded a 20-14 overtime road triumph in the 2005 season-opening clash.
That game marked the beginning of this series that has become a traditional matchup for both schools. Since that Lakeside triumph in 2005, Howland has won the last six games, outscoring Lakeside, 206-61, in those games for an average final score of 34.3-10.2.
Entering its 12th season, Lakeside is 54-57 (.487) all-time on the gridiron.