GAINESVILLE — As coach Bill Browning tried to call his Sunlake team together for a postgame talk, Cameron Stoltz was inconsolable, sitting 10 yards away on the 42.
Tears rolled down both of the senior quarterback’s cheeks and onto his dirty, white uniform as he tried to hide his eyes from the scoreboard. The reality of what it said — Gainesville 21, Sunlake 14 — was more than he was ready to take in at that moment.
“This is going to hurt tonight,” Browning said after Friday’s Class 6A region semifinal. “But we just made too many mistakes.”
And that is what forced and end to the greatest season in Seahawks’ history. Sunlake (10-2) lost two fumbles, one of which Cordero Dixon returned 49 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. And Stoltz gave a gutty effort, going 9-of-18 for 133 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Burgos in the opening series of the third quarter against a fast Hurricanes’ defense.
But Stoltz also threw two interceptions, the first of which Dixon returned 51 yards for a touchdown and the last of which USF commitment Chris Bivins pulled down with 49.8 seconds to play to seal the win for Gainesville (10-2).
“That was big for my team,” said Bivins, whose 10th-ranked Hurricanes visit No. 1 Armwood next week. “I wanted to do the best I could for my team. ”
Bivins, a starter at receiver and cornerback, was quick to credit the Seahawks’ defense, which he said was one of the best his team had faced all year.
“Their secondary is pretty strong,” said Bivins, whose team has faced powerhouse programs like Madison County, Ocala Trinity Catholic, Ocala Vanguard and Lake City Columbia in 2011. “They played us really well.
“And our run game wasn’t there because their linebackers and defensive line shut it down.”
Indeed, one week after Vanguard got nearly 250 rushing yards combined out of P.J. Williams and Kyle Sandner against Sunlake, the Seahawks limited Gainesville to 85 yards on 32 carries.
Gainesville quarterback Mark Cato opened 0-for-7 and was 3-of-13 for 46 yards in a first half that saw the teams combine for 10 punts, five turnovers and just seven first downs. Included in Cato’s total was an interception Paul Scott took 7 yards for a touchdown to cut an early Gainesville lead to 7-6 .
Gainesville, however, began looking more for speedy junior Chris Thompson, which opened up the offense in the final two quarters. Held without a reception in the first half, Thompson finished with five carries for 90 yards. And Cato was more accurate, completing 10 of his 16 second-half attempts to finish 13-of-29 for 164 yards.
“The (returning players) have a lot to live up to,” Browning said. “We’ll see in the offseason if they want it like (our seniors did). If they do, that’s great. If they don’t, they won’t be here.”
Photo by Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun