By Jeff Odom
Blank stares and silence told the story of the night for the Academy at the Lakes seven-man football team as the clock ticked down Nov. 8.
Despite a seven-point halftime lead at home, the Wildcats (7-1) gave up six touchdowns after the break en route to a 60-26 loss to Kissimmee City of Life Christian Academy in the state quarterfinals.
Academy coach John Castelamare told his players to be proud of what they accomplished this season, especially after facing adversity before it started with multiple opponents cancelling games.
“We met our match,” Castelamare said. “It wasn’t about who’s the better team here. It was about who wanted it more, and I think (City of Life) wanted it a little bit more. … I’m proud of them. I just wish we were practicing on Monday though.”
After fumbling on first down to open the game, the Wildcats hit their stride as quarterback Max Stepanents used his legs to move the ball.
Following consecutive runs of 16 and 13 yards, Stepanents found wide receiver DeAndre Williams for an 18-yard gain to set up Ahkil McGill’s rush from 18 yards out to get the academy on the scoreboard first.
Then, after the Warriors (10-3) tied the game at six apiece, Stepanents hit Jack Fishman for a 48-yard touchdown streak to regain the lead.
Stepanents (3-for-10, 75 yards, two touchdowns) would come through again with a 37-yard run in the second quarter to set up a 9-yard scoring strike to Williams to extend the lead to 13.
City of Life answered with another touchdown in the second quarter, before the Wildcats defense sacked quarterback Kolin Funk in his own end zone for a safety.
Castelamare said everything seemed to be clicking going into halftime.
“We had them for a while; we had a good first half,” Castelamare said. “I think the kids played hard enough, but then they started to play a little harder than we did.”
The Warriors turned momentum — and the lead — to their side by scoring on every possession after halftime.
The City of Life defense forced the academy to punt on its first two drives of the third quarter, while its offense racked up points with touchdowns of 65 and 75 yards for running back Michael Santiago to take its first lead of the game.
The lone score for the Wildcats after halftime came off of a 3-yard run from Fishman to draw his squad within six, but that’s as close as it got.
The Warriors scored four more times in the fourth quarter, all on long runs, to pull away with the victory.
“We definitely had a great trip, a great season,” said Stepanents, who finished with 66 rushing yards on nine carries. “This was pretty tough for everyone. We pretty much gave up in the second half and shouldn’t have done that.”
Castelamare credited City of Life for making the adjustments it needed to win.
“They’ve lost a couple games over there and we hadn’t lost any and they didn’t know what that tasted like and we now know what it feels like,” Castelamare said. “They’ve got some horses over there and we didn’t do a good job of wrapping up and tackling, but they’ll be alright.”