By Kyle LoJacono
Just two weeks ago at practice, Land O’ Lakes football coach Brian Wachtel rated his team’s play at two out of 10, but he had little to be disappointed about after the Gators spring game.
Land O’ Lakes defeated Wiregrass Ranch 55-12 at home on May 26. The Gators looked nothing like the team struggling to put in their new coach’s offensive and defensive schemes early in May.
“I’m thrilled,” Wachtel said. “I’m thrilled with where we’re at as a football team. I’m thrilled with the effort that these players have given all spring for the past four weeks, and I’m just thrilled to death with my coaching staff and the effort and just everything they’ve done. It’s a team effort and we’re all working together, the coaches and the players. The community has been terrific with their support.”
Junior Wesley Moore agrees: “We were going uphill the entire spring season. We’ve come a long way. We’ve put in a lot of hard work and the proof is out there on the scoreboard.”
Land O’ Lakes scored on the game’s first play from scrimmage when Moore scooped up a fumble and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown. The Gators scored their final points on a seven-yard run by freshman Javin Tandy as time expired.
Land O’ Lakes junior quarterback Ryan Bird went 10 for 14 for 272 yards and three touchdowns in the contest, showing little hesitation switching from the spread to a more pro-style offense.
“We feel more comfortable,” Bird said. “We have room to improve, but we feel more comfortable with the new system.”
Bird found junior tight end Kent Taylor six times on the night for 159 yards and two scores, one of 55 and another of 62 yards.
Bird also hit Moore twice for 53 yards including a 48-yard touchdown. Moore was a defensive back in 2010, but is likely to see more time on offense as a senior.
“This is definitely a success for us,” Moore said. “We came out and worked really hard leading up to the game. We weren’t really sure how it was all going to work, but in the last week we really nailed it. We put everything where it should be and this is a good showing for us.”
Both Wachtel and Bird gave a lot of credit to the Gators offensive line of Jason Ryan, Justin Claxon, Will Fairchild, Frank Hegedus and Justin Fortune. Wachtel described them as the “unsung heroes” of the game.
“They work so hard every day,” Bird said of the offensive line. “They try to get all the stunts in and everything down here in the spring. I think they did really well.”
Junior Shadow Williams had six carries for 32 yards and two touchdowns. He also had two sacks and put pressure on Bulls sophomore quarterback Jack Day all night.
“We feel pretty comfortable,” Williams said. “That’s with offense, defense and special teams. When we first got the coaching change it was a little shaky with the new stuff, but we have great coaches and it’s showing.”
Junior Jordan Michelson’s 64 return yards helped the Gators start with good field position most of the game.
As for the Bulls, Junior Jamel Nunéz had 52 yards on seven carries and added another 52 kick return yards.
Day had little time to make decisions behind the Gators defensive pressure. He was sacked four times and intercepted once. He did connect with freshman wide receiver James Jackson for a five-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
“We’ve got to get back to work and learn from this,” said Bulls coach Jeremy Shobe. “We’ve got a long way to go to get to where we want to be in the fall. We didn’t want to see the score like that, but it might help light a fire under everyone to work even harder.”
While Shobe is predicting the disappointment will spring the team, Bird said the win could catapult the Gators to new levels of success while continuing their Pasco County record streak of 14 straight playoff appearances.
“We felt good,” Bird said. “We have a lot more to get done and I think this will get us rolling into summer and the fall season. Hopefully we will do better than last year and just continue the streak.”
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