A game that started in disbelief ended in disappointment for the Ocean Lakes football team in Friday’s 6A South semifinal.
The Dolphins succumbed to far too many self-inflicted wounds in a 29-19 loss to Oscar Smith, fumbling away their undefeated season and chance to defend last year’s state title.
After falling behind 20-0 with four minutes left in the third quarter, the Dolphins clawed their way back in the next 15 minutes. Ocean Lakes scored 19 unanswered points, capped by a Khalan Laborn 6-yard touchdown run with 1:23 left in the game.
The Dolphins had a chance to tie the game on the point-after, but kicker James Hamer’s kick clanged his try off the left upright. The Tigers’ Larry Chapel then returned Ocean Lakes’ onside kick 43 yards to the Dolphins 3-yard line. Two plays later, Oscar Smith running back Kourtney Johnson ran in the dagger touchdown, giving the Tigers a 27-19 lead with 1:04 left.
The Dolphins (12-1) had one last chance on the ensuing kickoff, but senior Levonta Taylor collected the return on the 3-yard line and threw an illegal forward pass before getting tackled in the end zone. The play resulted in a safety and a 29-19 Tigers win.
“You can’t make those mistakes against a team like that,” Ocean Lakes coach Chris Scott said after the game. “My hat goes off to those guys. They answered the call. Much respect to them.”
The Dolphins committed 17 penalties for 148 yards. One holding penalty wiped away a 44-yard touchdown run by Laborn in the first half. Another erased a 66-yard run by Laborn to the Tigers’ 10-yard line early in the third quarter. Other penalties derailed offensive drives for the Dolphins and kept the Tigers on the field.
Ocean Lakes out-gained Oscar Smith 440-263 in total yards.
Laborn was the Dolphins’ lone bright spot on offense, finishing with 218 yards and one touchdown on 31 carries, along with two catches for 24 yards. But the star runner also committed two costly fumbles in the first half that demoralized a Dolphins offense that was threatening in Tigers territory both times.
“He just left it all out on the field,” Scott said of Laborn. “Those things happen, you know?”
The slew of errors was not the only reason the Dolphins lost. Oscar Smith (12-0) played a major role in disrupting Ocean Lakes’ game plan.
Oscar Smith’s aerial attack helped build the Tigers’ 20-point cushion late in the third quarter. Junior quarterback Shon Mitchell threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns on 15-of-27 passing. Chapel finished with five catches for 78 yards. Wide receiver Kevin Todd (four catches, 78 yards) and Khalik Perry (one catch, 35 yards) each hauled in a touchdown. Josh Grey finished with five catches for 31 yards.
On the ground, running backs Deangelo White (32 yards on eight carries) and Johnson (10 yards on seven carries) each ran in one touchdown.
On the other side, the Dolphins’ passing game was almost non-existent. Quarterbacks Kody Cunningham and Tyler DeSue combined for 72 yards and one touchdown on 7-for-16 passing. Ocean Lakes’ top receiver, Jermaine Trotman, had one catch for seven yards. The Dolphins’ second-leading receiver, Tahj Capehart, was held catch-less. Freshman running back Jake Low came up big in the second half with 88 yards and one touchdown on 11 rushes. Tylan McElhenie hauled in two catches for 45 yards and one touchdown.
Ocean Lakes intercepted Mitchell twice in the fourth quarter and capitalized with 13 points off those turnovers. The Dolphins defense held the Tigers in check for most of the second half, but special teams play doomed the Dolphins.
“It’s frustrating, but that’s football,” Scott said. “That’s what the game of football gives you.”
He was impressed by his players’ ability to hang tough when things didn’t go their way. The 20-point deficit was the largest the Dolphins had faced all year. Their offense had never failed to score in the first quarter, but Friday they were held scoreless until the final seconds of the third.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way our guys fought,” Scott said.
Still, a loss in the region semifinal is a major disappointment for a team that was nationally ranked and favored to return to the state championship. Dolphins players left the field shaking their heads.
“Completely disappointed when we don’t get a chance to win a state championship,” Scott said. “We got close, but not close enough. I am more proud of our guys than I am disappointed.”