LAND O'LAKES — Gulf never had a chance, right?
That was the general consensus among the football geniuses.
Even Buccaneers coach Jay Fulmer sounded as if he was searching for a white flag to wave before kickoff.
Turns out, that was all part of the coaching tactic.
Ultimately, a lack of bodies — just 24 dressed to play — caught up with them and Land O'Lakes turned it on late Friday in a 48-30 victory that seemed a lot closer.
"No matter how you look at it, a district win is a district win," Land O'Lakes coach Matt Kitchie said. "I'm going to be honest, that was a tough, tough game. They were scrappy, all 24 of those guys."
Kitchie intended to exploit Gulf's lack of depth. But Fulmer had a plan to throw, throw and throw some more. That, combined with a ton of Land O'Lakes penalties and miscues, proved to be a perfect formula for Gulf.
When Bucs quarterback Madison Burr hit Thomas Polito for a 5-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead, some shrugged their shoulders. Then when Burr connected with Will Burbridge for 13-yard catch and run, the upset text alerts started to fly.
Gulf (3-2, 0-2) led 14-0 in the second quarter.
"We thought we had a good game plan coming in," Fulmer said. "We needed an early lead to make it a game. We knew that, we told the kids all week."
The Gators (4-0, 2-0) got a spark on a punt block and return 36 yards by Jackson Cannon. That was the start of 26 unanswered points for the Gators, who took a 26-14 lead in the third quarter after Tyler Peak (14 carries, 121 yards, one rushing touchdown, one receiving touchdown) busted loose for a 52-yard score.
Land O'Lakes quarterback Stevie Weatherford shrugged off early struggles, going 11-of-17 for 167 yards with four touchdowns.
Gulf cut the deficit to 26-24 after Burr's 6-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Burr (15-of-45, 222 yards) contributed on four touchdowns.
"When it gets to the middle of the third quarter, we're going to be struggling and we know that," Fulmer said. "I asked for a commitment from our players to play hard the rest of the season."
Land O'Lakes scored three more consecutive touchdowns, including a 62-yard pass to Alex Robinson, a 13-yarder to Peak and Will Irwin's fumble recovery returned 33 yards to put the game out of reach.
"When everyone started to settle down and we started playing our game, we could see we were starting to wear them down," Kitchie said. "… Our kids don't let adversity get them. … These kids proved they know how to win."