By Eugenio Torrens
It’s been a while since Gaither football fans had much to smile about. The 2007 season marked the last time the Cowboys had a winning season.
But with first-year coach Jason Stokes, Gaither (5-2) is reverting back to its winning ways.
The Cowboys shut out Freedom 37-0 on Oct. 20 to nab their third Class 7A-District 7 win and remain unbeaten in district play. It’s also the squad’s fourth straight victory and first playoff-clinching win since 2008.
“I am happy,” Stokes said. “I know I’m gonna get the film and we’re going to see a lot of mistakes, but I tell them all the time if you’re going to make a mistake, do it 150 miles an hour.”
Even the Gaither coaches might have some trouble nitpicking after this win. Quarterback Alex McGough, a Wesley Chapel High transfer, was 13-of-18 passing, throwing three touchdowns and running for another — though he was picked off once. The team also had six rushers combine for 131 yards, including junior Vu Le’s eight carries for 82.
The Gaither defense harassed Patriot quarterback Taylor King, who was held to 45 yards passing and was intercepted once and sacked nine times. Cowboy linebacker Josh Scarberry had four of those sacks and recovered a blocked punt to set up a touchdown.
“I love our defense,” Scarberry said. “To get a win like this is awesome. To come out and play Freedom for our third district game and just 37-0, I couldn’t have asked for anything better than that.”
The Patriots ran into trouble early. On Freedom’s second play, Gaither’s Nick Sampson got to King and forced a fumble, which was recovered by defensive end Mikhail Reece. Although the Cowboys were held to a field goal, the pressure on King was a preview of things to come.
After a Freedom three and out, Gaither marched 69 yards and scored on a 20-yard run by Le.
The Patriots struggled to find any offensive rhythm, while the Cowboys ran like a finely tuned machine. Gaither scored 23 points before McGough was intercepted.
Freedom took over on its own 34-yard line and sputtered. A roughing-the-kicker penalty moved the Patriots to their 41, but they moved backward to the 32 thanks to Scarberry’s third sack of the night.
Gaither opened the second half with its first punt of the game. As if to prevent any sort of letdown, the Cowboys blocked Freedom’s ensuing punt and Scarberry recovered seven yards from the end zone.
McGough found Demarcus Sexil for a 7-yard strike to make it 30-0. McGough added a rushing score for the game’s final points.
For Gaither, the comfortable margin of victory was a relief after a 17-16 come-from-behind win at East Bay the week before.
“After getting that close victory, to win by that much is always good,” McGough said. “Just to connect with your players, it boosts confidence.”
But the Cowboys are feeling good because they have proven they can win close or big.
“We’re not used to winning here,” Scarberry said. “The past couple of years it’s been rough, but to come out 5-2 it’s totally different. All the boys are hyped, ready to take the district.”
Gaither plays at Chamberlain on Friday, Oct. 28, while Freedom hosts Tampa Bay Tech. Both games are at 7:30 p.m.
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