Column: Glimmer of hope for downtrodden Interlachen team
The date: Friday, May 21, 2004.
The place: Trenton High School.
The event: Interlachen-Trenton spring football.
Once upon a time, University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari uttered the phrase, “Losing breeds losing.”
Plenty of programs understand that once the snowball of setbacks begin, it’s hard to stop that snowball from overwhelming you and everything in its path. And one of those programs that had been stuck in a rut of losing was the one at Interlachen High School.
From 1998-2003, the Rams lost every game on the field with the exception of one – that was a 9-8 win in the ninth game of the 2001 season against Fort White. But even after winning that game, the Rams went on a new losing streak and had built it to 21 by the end of the 2003 season.
(For the record, one of Interlachen’s losses was turned into a win after the ‘03 season when it was found Melbourne Central Catholic was using an ineligible player when it beat the Rams, 44-8.)
And so far in his still-new tenure as IHS coach, Bobby Humphries had yet to win a game on the field. But a trip for a spring game against Trenton High School may have changed things up for Humphries and his Rams for the upcoming season.
Even without 4,000-yard passer Cory Johns there anymore, just mere days away from graduating, the Rams took the field against Trenton with a new enthusiasm ... and an enthusiastic crowd of fans and family tagging along to see what could be even the slightest revolution for the program.
Trenton High’s Tigers were struggling to find an identity as well. Maybe Interlachen was the right medicine to cure what ailed them. But these Tigers were about to find out the losing Rams weren’t much into losing on this particular night, even if it was a spring game that didn’t count toward any records or standings.
Like many spring games, the first three quarters would feature the varsity clubs, then the last quarter would find the teams’ junior varsity teams locking up.
One of the many areas Humphries was looking at going into the spring game was how much his team’s defense had improved. The ‘03 team gave up 406 points on the field.
Humphries would find out how hungry his team was for winning on that side of the ball – the Rams forced the Tigers into five fumbles, two of which Interlachen recovered, and picked off two more passes. And the Rams’ defense sacked Trenton quarterbacks twice on the night.
As for the offense, the Rams stuck to a steady diet of runs behind running backs Adrian Lumpkin and Joe Lewis, who had 86 and 78 yards, respectively. But it was in the air that quarterback Macho Rodriguez connected with all-around running back-receiver Greg Oats for a 17-yard scoring strike with 5:16 to go on a fourth-down play to put the Rams on the scoreboard.
Running game good. Passing game good. Defense good. And it was Lumpkin who helped put the game away for the varsity with a 44-yard score with 8:33 to play in the third period. Defensively, Mark Horner sealed the varsity end of the shutout with a sack of Raymon Blanck on the Interlachen 28 on fourth down with less than two minutes to go.
The JV did its part in a 12-0, one-quarter win after the varsity finished out a 14-0 victory. The scores were provided by Oats, who was going to start out on the JV squad the next season. He scored on runs of 70 and 68 yards.
Said Humphries afterward, “This game was crucial for us and the defense stepped up big. The defense played excellent and that’s important. For us to win games, we have to be able to shut people down.”
Trenton’s coach, Greg Jeffcoat, made it crystal clear.
“It told my team tonight that this was a test to see how we matched up against a pretty good 2A team,” he said. “We failed our test. They passed theirs.”
Still, that would not roll into the 2004 season as the Rams lost their first four games of the year to Palatka, Keystone Heights, Newberry and Bradford. But the next game turned out to be the turning point – the Rams ended their long on-the-field losing streak to county rival and future state playoff qualifier Crescent City, 13-8. The Rams followed that up with a win on the field against Melbourne Central Catholic, 36-10, and would end the season by edging Branford, 10-7. A 3-6 record may not sound like a whole lot, but it was to this program. Humphries was honored as the Daily News Coach of the Fall for the team’s effort.
The Rams followed that up with seven victories in the next two years before Humphries was relieved of his duties after the 2006 season. Since his departure, Interlachen has won just four games in a season twice, going 6-4 under Willie Offord in 2010 and 4-5 under Joe Szymanski in 2016.
But for one brief, shining moment, there was a gleam. And that gleam meant good things were going to happen for the program after years of losing.
And the win at Trenton High in a game that didn’t count toward the standings was certainly a start.
Mark Blumenthal is a writer for the Palatka Daily News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @diabolicalmarky.