NEW PORT RICHEY — As they left the stadium, Land O’Lakes fans were already plotting the drive to Inverness.
Land O’Lakes and Sunlake advance to the 3A region quarterfinals Thursday, and Friday’s game determined their roles.
The Seahawks defeated the Gators 3-1 to earn the district championship a third consecutive year. Sunlake will host District 7 runnerup Nature Coast, while the Gators travel to Citrus.
The game was scoreless at the end of the first half, but the Seahawks had already outshot the Gators 11-3.
“I just told them to keep playing how they were playing,” Sunlake coach Sam Koleduk said. “We were dominating, just missing some easy shots.”
The first score of the night came 53 minutes in. Sunlake’s Cobi Shermo raced to the box and flicked the ball over the line.
“Once we score, the floodgates always open,” Koleduk said. “Once we scored, I knew we had the game.”
Koleduk’s prediction was true. Within the next three minutes, Sunlake scored twice more.
Shermo passed to Connor Spencer just seconds after his own goal, and Spencer’s solid kick sank the ball into the back of the net. Remi Pimm added another goal just minutes later, his 55th this season.
It looked to be a shutout until the Gators were afforded a penalty kick with less than 10 minutes remaining. Glenn Johnson’s kick was successful for the final margin.
The Gators weren’t given many chances to score in the second half. Sunlake ended the game with six saves, while Land O’Lakes had 16.
To some fans, Sunlake’s victory may have felt like revenge a couple of years in the making. Two years ago, the Seahawks fell in the region semis to Land O’Lakes, the eventual state runner-up.
After Sunlake’s 2013 district championship, the Seahawks advanced to the state semifinals, falling to eventual state champion Ponte Vedra.
The Seahawks have already faced their next opponent. They defeated Nature Coast 4-1 last week. Koleduk said they know the team well enough to feel confident going into regionals.