LAND O’LAKES — After falling behind 14-0, Land O’Lakes was impressive the rest of the way Friday night, defeating Zephyrhills 38-27 at John Benedetto Field.
Three first-half turnovers aided the Gators in their comeback and the running game took over in the second half.
Harrison Wood carried 22 times for 140 yards, and Land O’Lakes quarterback Ethan Weilant added 49 yards on the ground with two rushing touchdowns.
A pivotal moment came midway through the second quarter with the score tied. Zephyrhills fumbled it away on a wayward lateral, and starting tailback Willlie Williams injured his leg while trying to recover the ball.
Williams was taken for X-rays. His status was not available immediately after the game.
After that turnover Land O’Lakes took the lead for good on Weilant’s 29-yard pass to Seth Galbraith on fourth down.
“Definitely the turnovers helped us,” said Gators coach Brian Wachtel. “It was phenomenal how we overcame the early adversity, and our offensive line and backs pounded it.”
Zephyrhills jumped ahead 14-0 plenty in part to the efforts of Jarret Kelly. He picked off a Weilant pass on Land O’Lakes’ first possession to set up the Bulldogs at midfield. On fourth and 8 Mike Smith went long and Kelly hauled it in for a 38-yard score.
Kelly then picked off Weilant again, this time taking the ball back 60 yards to the Gator 21. On the next play Smith found Jaylen Pickett for a 21-yard touchdown.
But the Gators’ next offensive play was a key one. After two Zephyrhills penalties advanced the ball 20 yards, Weilant threw long for Kyle Forchion and the 42-yard score made it 14-7. A 50-yard punt by Andrew Dowler immediately preceded another Bulldogs turnover, this time a fumble by Williams.
Two plays later and Weilant’s 6-yard scamper had the hosts even.
The key sequence that saw LOL takes its first lead ensued. And Bobby Austin’s interception, followed by Forchion’s brilliant catch for a 42-yard gain, allowed for Dowler’s 32-yard field goal at the halftime horn.
All told the Gators scored 31 straight points. Zephyrhills threatened to make a game of it, getting a TD run by Smith early in the fourth quarter to pull within 31-21. The the Bulldogs held and were inside the LOL 20 -— only to commit a conduct penalty, and the drive stalled.
Malik Mutcherson and Lorine Parker (combined 11 carries for 84 yards) did a nice job filling in for Williams (7-22). Pickett caught five passes for 118 yards and Smith finished with 244 through the air.