By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — The 2016 season hasn’t gone the way Lemon Bay and North Port would have hoped.
The Manta Rays, last year’s District 5A-11 champions, have managed just two wins in their title defense. The Bobcats, who in their 14 years of existence have never had a winning season, are about to suffer their 15th losing season since the program was founded in 2002.
While expectations may have been tempered at North Port, they certainly weren’t at Lemon Bay back in August. The Manta Rays returned seven starters on both sides of the ball and they looked forward to another trip to the postseason.
That didn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean the Manta Rays are mailing in the end of the season, evidenced by last week’s 43-20 win at Bayshore.
Lemon Bay (2-7) and North Port (1-8) meet tonight once again for the Golden Hammer, the traveling trophy given to the rivalry’s winner. It also will be Senior Night for 11 Manta Rays, who want to provide some momentum for the rest of their teammates entering next season.
“I think it’s really important for them to have the confidence that when we’re gone they can still accomplish things and have a great season next year and really grow and accomplish great things on their own,” said senior Brayden Curry, who leads Lemon Bay in rushing with 725 yards this season.
Lemon Bay coach D.J. Ogilvie is downplaying Senior Night but isn’t downplaying the importance of tonight’s game. He says finishing this season with another win is huge heading into next spring.
Ogilvie notes there’s a big difference between winning back-to-back games to finish out the year and losing three of your last four.
“I think if you finish on a good note or a little bit of a roll, I think it does a lot for your outlook in the offseason,” Ogilvie said.
Even when Southeast eliminated Lemon Bay from playoff contention on Oct. 14, Ogilvie vowed to give it his all to his players for the rest of the season and his players have followed suit, especially the seniors. Curry gained 143 yards on 23 carries and scored four touchdowns against Bayshore while Victor Mellor caught four passes for 93 yards and a touchdown in last Friday’s victory.
“It’s testament to our kids that they’ve kept working hard throughout the season,” Ogilvie said. “When things aren’t going your way it’s real easy to just go through the motions so I’ll give them credit for still working hard.”
“It’s a testament to our program. The kids still have pride in our program and what they do and believe the team and program is bigger than themselves.”
Curry admits it’s going to be a sad playing at Veteran’s Stadium for the final time tonight and says his time as a Manta Ray has flown by. But he’s not going to let it bring him down. He’s instead focused on leaving his final mark on the program that he’s put blood, sweat and tears into for the last four years.
“I just want to have fun. I just want to hopefully have a good game but it’s about having fun because it’s the last time I’m going to be on the same football field as most of these boys and that’s what I want to take out of it,” Curry said.