HOLIDAY — Land O’Lakes was halfway through Friday night’s 24-7 win over Anclote when senior Colin Irwin turned to Darius Wells on the sideline and stated the obvious.
“We’re back, baby,” Irwin said. “We’re back.”
Irwin and his Gators again look like one of the North Suncoast’s top programs after Friday night’s performance against the Sharks (0-2), a playoff team last year and the Class 5A, District 7 favorites. Land O’Lakes’ defense stifled one of the North Suncoast’s top rushing attacks, holding 1,400-yard rusher Willie Barrett to only 43 yards.
A year after finishing 4-6 and missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, Land O’Lakes is 2-0 with two double-digit victories.
“It burns in the back of their heads,” Gators coach Brian Wachtel said of last year’s first losing season since 1996. “There’s no doubt about it. These guys are hungry.”
And they’re starting to feast on Pasco County teams.
Land O’Lakes broke the game open with two impressive first-half touchdowns. One play after hitting Stefan Zapata for a 39-yard screen pass, quarterback James Pensyl found a leaping Kamal Wells for a 30-yard touchdown strike.
Pensyl turned a broken play into another touchdown in the second quarter. On third and 14, he eluded a pass rush, rolled left and found Wells sliding in the end zone to put his team up 15-0.
Pensyl followed up last week’s 375-yard explosion with a 16-of-30, 212-yard night.
“He’s showing his potential,” Wells said.
So is the Gators’ defense, which Wells deems the best in the county.
Land O’Lakes shut out River Ridge last week and nearly did the same to the Sharks. Anclote’s lone score came in the closing two minutes on a 62-yard rush by Trent Crawford. The Sharks mustered only six first downs and fewer than 200 total yards.
They were also dealt a blow when two-way standout Shy Carter left the game during the first series with an apparent shoulder injury. He did not return.
Gators defenders Deionte Strozier and Austin McGuire both had interceptions, and McGuire also found Shaheed Salmon for a two-point conversion.
Land O’Lakes’ defense contributed to the scoring, too, when Darius Wells bobbled an Anclote fumble and eventually pounced on it in the end zone.
Wachtel said the Gators began planning for 2013 the day after their season ended. The coaching staff improved, and the players dedicated themselves to the weight room to start fixing the problems and start trying to put the Gators back in the playoffs and back near the top of Pasco County.
“We knew we had to get bigger; we knew we had to get stronger,” Wachtel said. “That was evident last year.”
And the improvements are already evident, two games into the season.