LRHS Football 2023: A Season of Resilience

The 2023 Lakeland Lancers do their signature run out in preparation for their game against the Vernon Vikings.
The 2023 Lakeland Lancers do their signature run out in preparation for their game against the Vernon Vikings.
Courtesy of the LRHS Yearbook

TThe 2023 football season was definitely one to remember for Lakeland Regional High School’s Lancers. The team raced to a 3-0 start and never looked back, finishing with an 8-4 record and a trip to the New Jersey North 2 Group 2 State Sectional final. The season saw the Lancers return to the playoffs after missing them the year prior, as well as their first trip to the Sectional final since 2017.

Regular Season Recap

Lancers quarterback Collin Sabric fires a pass against the Vernon Vikings. (Courtesy of the LRHS Yearbook)

The Lancers began their season at an unfamiliar foe, Verona high school, in their first ever “week zero” game in school history. The Lancers came out with a victory over the Hillbillies 10-7, after an Eydan Linares, senior, go ahead field goal and a strong defensive goal line stand on the final drive of the game. The next week Lakeland traveled on the road to face a more familiar opponent, the Sparta Spartans. After jumping out to a 14-7 lead at halftime, a late fourth quarter Sparta touchdown knotted things up at 14 with less than two minutes to go. Rather than settling for going into overtime, the Lakeland coaches and players drew up a “two minute drill” that saw the Lancers march down the field after a clutch 57 yard reception by senior captain and wide receiver Kyle Keyes. The Lancers found the end zone with three seconds to go with a rushing touchdown by junior quarterback Collin Sabric, and the Lancers had avenged a 48-14 loss from the year prior by beating the Spartans 21-14. It was Sparta’s first divisional loss since 2017. In week 2, the Lancers had their first home game at Butler High School against the Ramsey Rams. The Lancers were forced to play at Butler due to the turf at Lakeland still being under construction. On the blue field at Butler, the Lancers came out victorious 20-6, once again avenging a loss from the year prior, as the Rams defeated the Lancers 48-27 in 2022. The Lancers unfortunately experienced their first loss of the season at the hands of the Passaic Valley Hornets in week three, with a final score of 21-0.

The Lancers shifted their focus to their rivals, West Milford, in the first game on the turf. The Lancers came out firing after senior Andrew Ganci scored a defensive touchdown on the opening Highlander drive, and never looked back, defeating the Highlanders 28-7. This was Lakeland’s fourth consecutive win against their heated rival. Lancers Head Coach Ryan McCarney considered this opening of the turf to be his favorite moment of the season, as he proclaimed, “The opening night of our turf facility was one I’ll always remember. Defeating our rival West Milford 28-7 in front of 2,000+ fans was incredible.”
The following week the Lancers lost to an extremely talented Vernon squad 27-6, but avenged a loss from the year prior the following week against the Jefferson Falcons, in which the Lancers won 33-0. The Lancers lost the following week against an undefeated Westwood team, and finished the regular season with a 35-6 win over the High Point Wildcats.



Lancers team captain Kyle Keyes lines up before a play against the Vernon Vikings. (Courtesy of the LRHS Yearbook)

Despite a 6-3 record, which was considered by many to be an above average at best regular season, the Lancers were ready for a deep playoff run. Seeded fifth, the Lancers traveled to play the fourth seeded Pequannock Golden Panthers in the opening round of the playoffs. The Lancers came out of the gates firing, as on their first drive on offense the Lancers marched down the field and scored to take a 7-0 lead. The Lancers extended their lead on their second offensive drive of the game after a Keyes receiving touchdown, to make the score 14-0 Lancers. However, the Lancer offense stalled after a promising opening two drives, and a Pequannock touchdown made the score 14-7 at the half. The Lancers offense continued to be quiet in the second half, but the Lancers defense held the Golden Panthers in check thanks to two interceptions by Keyes. However, the Panthers mounted a six minute fourth quarter drive that brought them all the way to a first and goal situation. Backs against the wall, the Lancer defense stepped up just as it had done all night to make the goal line stand and escape Pequannock with a 14-7 win. This was the Lancers first playoff win since 2017.

The next week the Lancers faced the Undefeated Caldwell Chiefs, who were the defending state champions and held a 37 game winning streak up to that point. However, the Lancers weren’t fazed by the mighty Chiefs, and were ready for a battle. The Lancers fell down 7-0 in the first quarter, but the Lancers immediately responded with a Jake Spear, senior, receiving touchdown to knot things up at seven. In the second quarter it was all Caldwell, as the Chiefs built a 21-7 and were 5 yards away from 28-7 with a first and goal opportunity late in the quarter. Once again, the Lancers showed how resilient they are under pressure, as Keyes intercepted the Caldwell pass and took it 95 yards to the end zone to make it 21-14 going into halftime. What looked like a potential blowout, became a dogfight with one incredible play by Keyes. In the third quarter, the Lancers tied things up once again after Spear scored his second touchdown of the day, this time on a 65 yard strike from Collin Sabric, junior. The Lancers fell behind once again in the fourth quarter making the score 28-21, but the Lancer responded right back with Spears third touchdown of the day, making it 28-27 Chiefs after a missed extra point. Still losing, the Lancers once again relied on their defense to make a stop, and they did exactly that after a clutch tackle on third down made by senior linebacker Antonio Santora. The Lancers got the ball back late in the fourth quarter, and took the lead after an incredible throw and catch from Sabric to fellow junior Aiden Thacker. The ensuing two point conversion attempt failed, but the Lancers took their first lead of the night with a score of 33-28. The following Caldwell drive was upended by the Lancers, and Lakeland had knocked off the Chiefs of Caldwell with a final score of 33-28, ending Caldwell’s 37 game winning streak. Captains Keyes and Michael Sabric, senior, credit this game to be their favorite of the season.

Lancers senior wide receiver Jake Spear looks to make a defender miss in a game against the Vernon Vikings. (Courtesy of the LRHS Yearbook)

After the extreme high of beating Caldwell, the Lancers shifted their focus to Bernards High School, a team that they had scrimmaged earlier in the year. This game was the state sectional finals, the first of which for Lakleand since 2017. Lakeland struck first in the second quarter with a one yard Collin Sabric rushing touchdown. The Mountaineers responded with a touchdown of their own, to knot things up at seven going into the half. Lakeland scored in the third quarter on a four yard touchdown run by junior Jeremy O’Hernandez to make the score 14-7, but Bernards responded with a field goal early in the fourth quarter to make the score 14-10. Late in the fourth quarter, Bernards marched down the field on a 90 yard drive to take the lead 17-14; however, there was still some time on the clock for the Lancers to piece together a drive. The Lancers did just that, marching all the way into Mountaineer territory, setting up a game tying, 44 yard field goal by Linares to send the game into overtime on his longest kick of the season. The Lancers unfortunately fell to Bernards in overtime, after an incredible game played by both squads. Despite the loss, Coach McCarney still feels as though this was his favorite game of the season.

“My favorite game was playing in the state sectional final at Bernards. Our community traveled and supported us and it was an unbelievable environment. While it didn’t end the way we all had hoped, our players and coaches left everything out there and put Lakeland football back on the map,” McCareny stated.


Season Reflection
Despite the crushing loss, the Lancers still experienced an incredible run that people from the Lakeland community will never forget. The Lancers put all of New Jersey on notice after defeating the fourth ranked public school in the state, and ending their 37 game win streak. Their loss in the sectional final is something that shouldn’t be frowned upon either. They emulated their performance from a week prior, and never gave up, even when many thought the game was over after Bernards scored the go-ahead touchdown with less than a minute in regulation.

Collin Sabric gives the hand-off to Jeremy O’Hernandez in the Lancers game against the Vernon Vikings. (Courtesy of the LRHS Yearbook)

Coach McCarney too views this season as a success, as he believes, “As a football team we were playing our best football when it mattered most. We also saw growth in our players individually, they became better people and teammates as our season progressed.” Coach McCarney thanks the “Board of Education and administration for giving me this great opportunity to be the next head football coach at Lakeland” as well as his wife and his two daughters, Everly and Kinsley, for allowing him to pursue his dream of being a head high school football coach.

Captain Michael Sabric thanks his “teammates, coaches, community, teachers, the Athletic Trainer Mrs. Janell Sulich, and especially the bus driver Guvan and his crew for getting us to the games safely and on time.”

The Lancers have hope for the future, as they will hold on to returning key starters such as juniors Collin Sabric, Brody McCormack, Jeremy O’Hernandez, Aiden Thacker, Brennan Stocker, Liam Harrington and sophomore Arber Rugova. The Lancers also have talented underclassmen to fill in the roles of the graduated seniors.

As for his goals for next season, Coach McCarney stated that he wants to be “1-0. We are going to have a great offseason of lifting, training and preparing for the upcoming fall.”

Lakeland football truly is on the rise. They’re ready to avenge the heartbreaking state sectional final loss from this year and go for it all next year.


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About the Contributor
Sean Walker, Staff Writer
Sean is a senior at LRHS and this is his first year writing for the Lancer Ledger. He is excited to be taking Journalism 1 because it will allow him to write about things he's passionate about, such as sports, history, and entertainment. At LRHS, Walker participates in wrestling, football, and track and field, and is a member of the National Honors Society. Overall, Walker looks forward to strengthening his writing through the field of journalism this year.

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