LAND O'LAKES — Tanner Stocker had a some extra help on the sideline.
During the Gators 29-0 thumping of Wiregrass Ranch on Friday night, the sophomore quarterback, making his first career start in place of the injured Stevie Weatherford, who fractured his left collarbone last week, admits he had someone else to turn to during the game.
"(Stevie) helped a lot," said Stocker, who had attempted just one pass in his varsity career. "He was like having a third quarterback's coach out there. It was nice having someone with experience like that on your side."
Stocker finished the game 9-of-13, passing for 108 yards and two scores, but played sparingly in the fourth quarter with Land O'Lakes up big. All the while, however, Stocker finally gained that much-needed experience, which was important to coach John Benedetto since the Gators (8-2) will host Daytona Beach Seabreeze in a Class 4A region quarterfinal Friday.
"He played the way we expected him to play," Benedetto said. "Like I've said, he just doesn't have the experience Stevie has, but this game was important for him and hopefully this will help him going into a very, very big playoff game next week because I like what I saw tonight."
Land O'Lakes scored first when kicker Alex Spock hit a 49-yard field goal in the first. However, Spock would miss two other attempts (53, 24), as well as not converting extra points due to bad snaps.
The Bulls, who have only had two wins in three varsity seasons of existence, struggled throughout the game on offense, giving up five turnovers, including four interceptions, three by quarterback James Tringali. The sophomore was 5-of-13 for 30 yards. Linebacker Andrew Gorgen intercepted Tringali twice, while Alexander Mathis picked off the third. Running back Josiah Johnson, who had a team-high 11 carries for 62 yards, gave up a fourth-quarter fumble.
Land O'Lakes scored twice off the turnovers: a 4-yard run by Ben Hipps and a 28-yard run by Jamie Tello.
"In the last 12 years, we've won four playoff games," Benedetto said. "The last six years, though, we lost the last game of the previous season. You certainly don't want to go into the playoffs with a loss, but it is a very important game for us, not only for Tanner, but for this entire football team."