By Eugenio Torrens
When Sunlake denied Land O’ Lakes its eighth straight district championship 3-2 on Jan. 27, the Gators wanted a rematch in the playoffs.
Land O’ Lakes (21-3-2) beat the Seahawks (17-7-3) 5-1 in the Class 3A regional semifinals on Feb. 3 to advance to the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 2005 — when the current Gators senior class was in fifth grade.
“The guys were very upset that they weren’t getting their eighth in a row, and I know that affected them,” said Land O’ Lakes coach Mark Pearson. “I don’t know if that was a revenge factor, but I know that they felt they could play much better than they did, and they came out tonight and proved it.”
Not only did the Gators win keep their season alive — it also gives them bragging rights over the cross-town rival Seahawks.
“It seems really to have evolved into one side of town against the other side of town I guess you could say,” Pearson said. “I think it’s a great rivalry.”
Coming into the regional semifinals, the two teams had split the season series, one game apiece and a tie, but Land O’ Lakes had the most lopsided victory with a 5-1 W on Dec. 12.
When Sunlake beat the Gators for the Class 3A-District 8 district championship six weeks later, it marked the first time the fifth-year program has gotten the better of Land O’ Lakes ever.
Losing the district served as motivation seven years in the making for the Gators.
“You don’t even understand, every single one of us players was thinking ‘Hey, come on, we obviously dominated the last game (against Sunlake, 5-1),” said Land O’ Lakes senior forward/midfielder Miguel Laliberte, who scored a goal in the semis. “There’s no way we can’t get the result the next game. … It means a lot to everybody to win a game like that to find out that we’re the better team at the end of the year.”
The two teams scored a goal each less than two minutes apart in the first half. The Gators got on the board first in the 12th minute on a header from Josh Davis, but the Seahawks responded when Calvin Restrepo booted in a firecracker from 25 yards out.
Despite an evenly contested first half, Land O’ Lakes stepped up the offense with constant pressure on Sunlake goalkeeper Brandon Jungbauer in the second, pouring on four goals while shutting the Seahawks out.
The Gators second-half offensive onslaught was almost stopped in its tracks early when a ball got through Jungbauer’s legs, but a defender was able to stifle the scoring attempt. Seconds later, Land O’ Lakes went ahead when Sean Young got a loose ball off a corner kick and fed Jake Frahm to make it 2-1.
Frahm assisted Laliberte in the 54th minute to put the game out of reach.
“Obviously we wanted to win the district championship and that loss just made us want to beat them that much more,” Frahm said. “Coming into districts, I think since we beat them 5-1 before, we could just beat them, walk onto the field and beat them and that wasn’t the case.”
The Gators didn’t stop attacking with the 3-1 lead. Their last two goals came with less than 10 minutes to play, in the 72nd and 73rd minutes, by Davis and Andy Garcia, respectively.
Land O’ Lakes won 4-0 at Fivay in the regional quarterfinals on Jan. 31. Garcia got the Gators on the board first off a pass from Nathan Dalton, who scored the game’s next three goals.
Sunlake bested Gulf 4-1 in its quarterfinals contest, the first home playoff game in program history. The Seahawks got goals from Jared Landry and Conner Gilboy, along with a pair of tallies from Connor Spencer.
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