WESLEY CHAPEL — This was the kind of pick-me-up Land O'Lakes needed, and the kind of loss that could knock Wesley Chapel into a tailspin.
The Gators walked off the field smiling and victorious with a 45-27 victory over their former Class 5A, District 5 rival. The Wildcats coaching staff got ready for a long night of reviewing what went wrong and preparing for rival Pasco next week.
"The good thing about tonight's game is we got our confidence back after getting beat pretty badly," Land O'Lakes coach John Benedetto said. "Our kids didn't quit."
The Gators (1-1) grabbed the momentum immediately, scoring back-to-back touchdowns on back-to-back Wesley Chapel (1-1) fumbles. The Wildcats fumbled six times, losing five. Land O'Lakes turned three of those turnovers into touchdowns and converted one for a 20-yard field goal by Alex Spock, who had a solid night after sputtering a week ago.
In fact, the Gators were decimated by the Pirates in a home-opening loss 26-6. Benedetto criticized all facets of that effort. This week, he got the pass protection and running game he was looking for.
Gators quarterback Stevie Weatherford completed 13 of 17 passes for 202 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. He hit Alex Robinson for a 20-yard score for a 14-0 lead, then Jamerson Davis for a 37-yard score for a 21-7 lead. Gators running back Tyler Peak made it 28-7 on a 20-yard touchdown run, and it appeared the Gators would ride off with ease.
That's when Wesley Chapel answered with a Keenan Reynolds 36-yard touchdown run, followed by a fake punt thrown by quarterback C.J. West to cut the lead to 28-21.
But Land O'Lakes was able to punch out one more touchdown before halftime, a 1-yard run by Collin Robinson to make it 35-21.
West (7-for-13 for 141 yards, one touchdown) came out after halftime and was replaced at quarterback by Geoff DeGroot (5-for-10 for 98 yards).
The Gators began the third quarter with a Weatherford interception, but Wesley Chapel couldn't capitalize, fumbling on the Gators' 12-yard line. Land O'Lakes took the ensuing drive six plays, capped by a 47-yard touchdown run by James Tello for a 42-21 lead. DeGroot scored once more for the Wildcats.
"You can't spot a good football team 14 points like that," Castelamare said. "… We just didn't play well enough to make a big play."