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LAND O’LAKES — After two unusual miscues handed Sunlake a 14-13 victory over Nature Coast on a soggy, lightning-delayed evening, Seahawks quarterback Josh Zifer had only one heavenly explanation.
“Give it to God, I guess, basically,” Zifer said. “It was a lot of luck tonight …”
And a lot of rain-induced errors that helped the Seahawks (4-1, 2-1) keep their hopes of back-to-back postseason appearances alive with a sloppy win in a game delayed 30 minutes because of lightning.
Nature Coast (3-3, 2-1) took advantage early when Joey Berrios stuffed a fourth-down rush at the Sharks 21 to kill a Sunlake drive. Neither team could maintain much offense on a slushy field, sloshing their way to 102 total yards in a scoreless first quarter.
As the skies cleared in the second, the scoring began. Sunlake’s Connor Gilboy booted a 29-yard field goal to give his team a 3-0 lead with 3:53 left in the half.
“This was pretty much just a good old backyard brawl is what it amounted to,” Seahawks coach Bill Browning said. “Our kids really scrapped and never gave up.”
Sunlake’s defense bottled up Nature Coast star running back Matt Breida, holding the Division I recruit to 62 yards — his lowest output since a blowout loss to Hernando in NCT’s ninth game last fall.
The Sharks finally got into rhythm under a new quarterback in the final 1:04 of the half. Trevor Castro replaced runner Ryan Quigley and immediately sparked the offense.
Castro completed 3 of 4 passes in a 32-second span with 28-yard completions to Jonathan Thomas and Ryan Roscillo. Thomas fell in the end zone on the next play, but Castro hit the 6-foot-3 sophomore, who collected the ball on his knees for his third touchdown of the season. Castro’s 63 passing yards on that drive were more than NCT gained in the previous 23 minutes combined (44).
Sunlake continued to get close but couldn’t come away with touchdowns against a stingy Sharks defense. Zifer busted through a hole and had a path to the goal line but lost the ball inside the Nature Coast 5.
“I put it all on me,” Zifer said.
The fumble rolled into the end zone, and DeShawn Smith fell on it to preserve the Sharks’ lead. It didn’t last long.
Breida committed a rare fumble on the next possession, and Sunlake’s Darren Bainbridge recovered to set up another 29-yard field goal from Gilboy.
Sunlake’s defense forced a three-and-out and caught a break when Nature Coast’s punter touched his knee down while fielding a low snap inside his 10.
“Our defense played their butts off,” Zifer said.
And it gave Zifer a chance to atone for his mistake. Two plays later, he rumbled 3 yards into the end zone for the go-ahead score. He fired a pass to a leaping Eddie Burgos for the two-point conversion to boost the lead to 14-7.
“We knocked on the door enough,” Browning said. “We finally put a couple scores in there.”
The Sharks had two more drives left in them. Castro led NCT on a 55-yard drive early in the fourth quarter and capped it off with a 1-yard rush that cut the deficit to one. But a personal foul on the play pushed Nature Coast’s extra-point attempt back 15 yards.
The Sharks attempted to run the extra point in and failed.
NCT made a final push in the last five minutes, converting on a fourth-and-one rush by Breida. But Burgos intercepted a last-gasp, fourth-down pass to seal the victory.