Vanguard vanquishes Lake Wales in regional finals

Fred Gaskin's 4 touchdown passes lead Knights past Highlanders

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Posted November 24, 2023 | By Mark Pinson/Special to the Ocala Gazette
Photos By Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette

Vanguard senior quarterback Fred Gaskin tossed four touchdown passes, and the Knights’ defense returned two fumbles for scores in a 52-15 drubbing of Lake Wales in Friday night’s Class 3S regional finals at Booster Stadium.

The impressive win over Lake Wales, the defending Class 3S state champions and a perfect 12-0 coming into the contest, was Vanguard’s fifth in a row and improved the Knights to 11-2 on the season. This was just the second time in school history that Vanguard won in the regional finals. The only other time it occurred was in 1994.

“It’s a great feeling to get the win tonight,” said Knights veteran coach Edwin Farmer. “It’s one of those things that we’ve been working on for a long period of time. We’ve been to this third round of the playoffs multiple times and we’re finally out of it and on to the next round.”

To eliminate Lake Wales, which beat Vanguard last year in the regional finals, made the dominating win over the Highlanders even sweeter.

“This was definitely some payback,’ coach Farmer said. “We had a bad game last year and they took advantage of it and beat us. But this year, we’re the regional champions. We made plays on offense, defense and special teams and that’s what it takes to win big games like this.”

Vanguard, the No. 3 seed, moves on to play at Daytona Beach Mainland, the No. 2 seed, in the state semifinals on Friday night.

Lake Wales forced a Vanguard punt on the opening possession and a high snap sailed over the head of the punter and was recovered by the Highlanders on the Knights 28-yard line.

Lake Wales took advantage of the excellent field position and scored on a 9-yard touchdown run by RaShad Orr to take a 7-0 lead.

Vanguard went nowhere on offense and punted the ball, but Lake Wales fumbled the kick and Vanguard’s Markell Davis pounced on the ball on the Highlanders’ 34.

Gaskin hit Jermaine White for a 29-yard completion and running back Mitch Brown powered his way into the end zone from 5 yards out. The extra point by Jaxson Lee tied the score at 7-7.

Lake Wales completed a pass on its next possession, but the receiver was stripped of the ball and Vanguard’s Anthony Reason scooped it up and raced 41 yards for a touchdown. The point after gave the Knights a 14-7 lead midway through the first quarter.

A swarming Vanguard defense forced a Lake Wales punt, and a nice return gave the Knights the ball at midfield. Brown ripped off a 35-yard run and Gaskin connected with Tayjuan Leslie on a 15-yard scoring strike. The extra point was no good and the Knights led 20-7 with 9:35 left in the second quarter.

A turning point in the game occurred when another poor snap on a punt gave Lake Wales the ball on the Vanguard 17. The Knights defense rose up and ended the threat with an interception in the end zone by Zamaryon McCray-Farmer.

Gaskin marched the Knights 80 yards in nine plays and capped the drive with a 29-yard touchdown pass to White to give the Knights a 26-7 lead with under two minutes to play in the first half.

A short Lake Wales punt gave Vanguard the ball at the Highlanders 34. Gaskin found Dallen Ponder open in the end zone for a 34-yard scoring pass. The extra point was no good and the Knights led 32-7 with 15 seconds left in the second quarter.

Lake Wales attempted a pass on first down, but it was ruled a backward lateral and Johntavous Davenport picked it up and raced down the sideline for a score to give the Knights a commanding 40-7 lead at the half.

Vanguard made sure there was no comeback by Lake Wales as Gaskin tossed his fourth touchdown pass of the night, a 32-yard strike to Leslie, to give the Knights a 46-7 lead with 7:23 left in the third period. Gaskin completed 12 of 17 passes for 203 yards with no interceptions.

“This means a lot,” said Gaskin. “It’s something that no one can take from me. This game was very personal for me and a bunch of guys who played in last year’s game. After watching film, we were confident we were going to win this game.”

A running clock was used for the rest of the game.

Lake Wales scored on a 12-yard pass from quarterback Brycen Levidiotis to wide receiver Gabriel Legrand late in the third quarter.

Vanguard tallied its final score on a 3-yard plunge by White.

The Knights will get back on the practice field on Monday to get ready for Friday night’s state semifinal at Daytona Beach Mainland.

“We’re going to enjoy this win for a couple of days and then start preparing for our next game,’ coach Farmer said. “We’re going to keep working and keep grinding because we’re not done.”

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