LAND O'LAKES — Coach John Benedetto showed some great restraint.
After Land O'Lakes' 23-20 loss to Seabreeze on Friday night, the 32-year coach complained to anyone who would listen. Benedetto was upset with the officials at blowing numerous calls. That much he said, not only to the officiating crew as it left the field, but to his players in the post-game huddle, many of them with tears on their faces.
"I'm too upset right now to talk," Benedetto said to reporters on his way to the locker room. "It would probably be better for me as a coach to go sit down for 15-20 minutes and then I may be able to say something sensible. You guys try to interview me now and I'm not going to say things that a lot of people are going to like.
"Here's what I have to say: My kids played their hearts out tonight. I have never been more proud of them, of this football team than I am tonight. That's it."
The Sandcrabs (6-5) took a 23-20 lead with 22.8 seconds left when quarterback Dominique Roberts hit a 9-yard pass to Brett Kramer. Roberts accounted for most of Seabreeze's offense, racking up three scores (two passing, one rushing). He was 11-of-18 for 110 yards in the air and the game's leading rusher with 22 carries for a 120 yards.
Land O'Lakes, which was making its 12th consecutive playoff appearance, failed to make it past the first round for the fifth straight season. The Gators (8-3), however, stormed out on their opening drive, moving the ball nearly 80 yards without scoring.
"We were rolling after that first drive," said receiver Alex Robinson, holding back more tears. "We were playing our best game ever tonight."
Land O'Lakes scored first after recovering a botched punt return. Sophomore Tanner Stocker, in just his second start, hit Collin Robinson for a 15-yard touchdown. Stocker finished the game 5-of-10 for 46 yards. The Sandcrabs tied it after a James Tello fumble resulted in a Roberts 5-yard keeper.
A 45-yard field goal by Jackson Shelton made it 10-7 at the half. Land O'Lakes kicker Alex Spock hit a 30- and a 32-yard field goal, the second coming off a fumble recovery by Ben Hipps, who also had two interceptions and was the Gators' leading rusher with 19 carries for 79 yards. His second interception led to his 2-yard run in the third.
"We could move the ball on them," Robinson said. "At first we came out and thought we were going to get beat (worse), but we started believing and that's how we made what we have happen."
A tipped touchdown pass from Roberts to receiver Frederick Alequin brought the score to 20-17, then Land O'Lakes went four and out, allowing Seabreeze to take the final lead.
And despite what Benedetto may be thinking, Robinson had other things on his mind.
"I'm not thinking about that (the officials)," Robinson said. "I'm thinking about the seniors and this being their last game and how I could've done something more so they can keep playing.
"I really don't want to think about that either."