Offense and defense show up big in victory
By Kyle LoJacono
Land O’ Lakes High needed just seven plays to take a lead it would never give up against Class 3A, District 7 rival Wesley Chapel High in a 49-3 win Oct. 15.
While the Gators (6-0) offense is averaging 46 points per game, it was the defense that set a school record in the 46-point win by recording 13 sacks against the Wildcats (2-5).
“That was pretty impressive,” Land O’ Lakes coach Matt Kitchie said of the sacks. “We had an 11-sack performance earlier in the year and 13 tonight and you can’t really do that without the whole defense working together. We had a lot of players step up and make plays.”
Junior weakside linebacker Shadow Williams had four sacks in the game, doubling his total for the year.
“You just have to read the guards and read the tackles,” Williams said on how he was able to get to the quarterback. “You can tell by how they’re setting up and watching which way they’re going.”
Junior linebacker Jackson Cannon added two more sacks. The Gators are averaging more than six sacks per game.
The third sack on Wildcats freshman quarterback Alex McGough knocked him out of the game with an apparent knee injury.
Williams and the entire defense took pride in not allowing a touchdown to the Wildcats and holding them to just 75 yards.
“It’s really good for our offense because it gives them good field position and keeps them on the field so we can get points on the board,” Williams said.
Land O’ Lakes senior quarterback Stephen Weatherford said, “Our defense is unbelievable. They’re as good as our offense if not better. I can throw a pick and I know our defense is going to get the ball back to us.”
While the Land O’ Lakes defense was setting up shop in the Wesley Chapel backfield, the Gators offense was having a party of its own. They took the opening drive 49 yards down the field ending with a one-yard touchdown run by Weatherford.
“I felt like our passing game has been off for a couple games,” Weatherford said. “I felt like our running game clicked and our offensive line has been doing a lot better too and that opens things up in the passing game. I felt good about our whole offense tonight.”
The Land O’ Lakes signal caller finished 14 of 23 passing with 337 yards and four passing scores while adding another 65 rushing yards. Weatherford has 1,661 passing yards this year and 24 touchdowns. His 276.8 yards per game is the third most in Florida.
Weatherford threw a pair of touchdown passes to wide receiver Will Irwin and tight end Jason Tello, both seniors. The longest was a 63-yarder to Irwin.
“Stephen and I, we have a lot of chemistry,” Irwin said. “We’ve been in practice every day going on four years now. He knows where I’ll be and I know where to go. He knows when to throw it and he knows I’ll be there for it.”
Weatherford did throw one interception in the game and senior wide receiver Matthew Carper saved him from another. Late in the game a Wesley Chapel defender got his hands on a pass and looked like he completed the interception, but Carper pulled it away and made a would-be turnover into a 13-yard completion.
“I’ll have to buy him lunch or something for saving me from that one,” Weatherford said jokingly.
The Wildcats lone score came on a 27-yard field goal by junior Cody Hodgens. The points were set up by a muffed punt recovered by Wesley Chapel on the Gators 40-yard-line.
“We’re a really young team,” said Wesley Chapel coach Ben Alford. “A lot of those guys on the other sideline have been together for three and four years. We’re playing three or four freshman each game. It makes it difficult, but they’ll learn from these kinds of games.”
The Gators are currently tied for the district lead with Pasco High and Sunlake High.
Pasco has won the district the last three years and beat Land O’ Lakes 28-16 last year in Dade City, their only loss of the regular season. Kitchie has the score hanging on the Gators locker room door to remind them. The rematch with the Pirates is this Friday, Oct. 22 in Land O’ Lakes at 7:30 p.m.
“I think we’re really prepared for them,” Kitchie said. “Obviously the wounds are still fresh and that’s been up there on our locker room door since the Monday after we got beat so they see it every time they hit the practice field.”
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