LAND O’LAKES — The Sunlake defense doesn’t have a catchy nickname like the Steel Curtain or the Purple People Eaters.
It’s a defense void of superstars. No one jumps out during games as the unquestioned stud of the group.
They’ve toiled in relative anonymity all season. What Sunlake’s defense does have, however, is the ability to shut down opponents.
The Seahawks have done it seven straight times to open the season, and they’ll try to do it once more tonight against Land O’Lakes’ high-powered passing attack in a critical Class 3A, District 7 matchup. A win for either team likely guarantees a playoff berth.
“The kids know this is going to be their best shot we’ve had at Land O’Lakes in the four years we’ve been playing them,” Sunlake coach Bill Browning said.
It’s Sunlake’s best shot because the defense has dug the proverbial line in the sand each time it’s taken the field, refusing to let the opposition come anywhere close to crossing it.
The Seahawks have surrendered only three touchdowns. They’ve shut out four of seven opponents and are holding teams to an average of around 160 yards. Only Anclote in Week 5 eclipsed the 200-yard barrier.
So how is it that a program in only its fourth year of existence is able to field one of the stingiest defenses the area has seen in some time?
For Browning, it’s a matter of every player believing in the teammate next to him.
“We play good team defense,” Browning said. “Each kid’s got a job to do defensively, and they trust in each other that their teammate’s going to do the job. They’ve taken to the team concept of defense well.”
The Seahawks have listened to their detractors talk about how they’ve yet to line up against a really good offense. They’ve heard the whispers that they’ll be exposed once they play an offense with a pulse.
Tonight’s Land O’Lakes game will provide Sunlake with its sternest challenge yet. The Gators average more than 41 points a game and are led by USF commit Stevie Weatherford at quarterback.
What better way to prove their gaudy stats are legit than to continue their dominance against one of the area’s best offensive attacks.
“We want to show the Pasco area that our defense is for real,” said linebacker Nick Morrison, who leads the team in tackles. “Land O’Lakes’ offense is for real, so why not shut them out?”