LAND O’LAKES — A week after Sunlake snapped Land O’Lakes’ run of seven straight district titles, the Gators got their revenge.
Land O’Lakes dominated its rival on the road Friday, blowing out the Seahawks 5-1 in the Class 3A region semifinal to advance to its first region final since 2005.
“It’s been a while,” Land O’Lakes coach Mark Pearson said.
And the return will feel even better after knocking off their archrival to get there.
The Gators (21-3-2) took an early lead when Miguel Laliberte’s cross found Sean Young’s head in the 12th minute. Sunlake (17-7-3) answered two minutes later with a 20-yard strike by Calvin Restrepo that settled into the back of the net.
But the Seahawks struggled to muster any other good scoring chances, recording only six shots the rest of the night and succumbing to Land O’Lakes’ offense.
Senior Jake Frahm kicked in a deflection in the 50th minute to give the Gators the lead for good — and deliver payback from the 3-2 defeat they suffered last week in the district title game.
“That loss just made us want to beat them that much more,” Frahm said.
Land O’Lakes fell behind 3-0 in that game on what Pearson called three “terrible mistakes.” That loss led to tactical shifts and gave the Gators a reminder that they must keep fighting for the title of Pasco County’s top team.
“They felt that they could play much better than they did,” Pearson said. “They came out tonight, and they proved it.”
And they piled on in the second half, adding goals from Laliberte, Andrew Garcia and Joshua Davis in the final 27 minutes to thwart a Seahawk comeback.
“I’m almost at a loss for words,” Davis said after scoring his 29th goal of the season.
His fans were not.
As the Gators left Sunlake’s field, fans formed a tunnel to the bus and chanted, “Land O’Lakes!” Their Gators don’t have the district crown, but they reclaimed the title as the city’s top team with a long-awaited return to the region finals.
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com.