TAMPA — Taylor Nalls couldn't remember what, if anything, he ate for breakfast.
Who could blame Freedom's junior striker for letting his mind drift just hours before the biggest game of his high school career.
There was plenty on the table. This was the second playoff game with Land O'Lakes in two seasons. This was a chance to prove last year's upset of the Gators was not a fluke. And this was a chance to silence some of his club teammates, who happen to play for the Gators.
Freedom and Nalls left little doubt Tuesday in a 6-2 romp to advance to their second region final and first since 2005.
"This is the way we've been playing the last few weeks, aside from the game against River Ridge," Freedom coach Dennis Derflinger said. "… This is more of the way we should be finishing games."
Nalls limped away after scoring the first three goals for the second hat trick of his high school career, he said. He was banged up from some physical play, but said he should be fine for Friday's region final.
Nalls' first goal came off some nifty passing sparked by senior Deion Jones. He worked the ball to senior Manny Martes, who fed Nalls for the 1-0 lead in the 13th minute.
Then in the 22nd minute, Gators keeper Alex Spock made a diving save on a penalty kick that on any other night might have sparked a comeback.
Instead, Nalls made it 2-0 in the 35th minute, knocking home a rebound to head into halftime. In the 52nd minute, Nalls collected a loose ball and dribbled around Spock for a 3-0 lead.
"He worked hard," Derflinger said of Nalls. "Hard work tends to pay off with some goals. That's how he scored his."
The Patriots (15-2-5) also got goals from freshman Evan Kruk, Jones and Martes.
Freedom is the only team to knock off Land O'Lakes twice in the past two seasons. The Gators (22-3-2) are 46-5-4 in that span.
"Tonight we got beat for the first time in a very long time," Gators coach Mark Pearson said. "We gave up six goals for the first time in (a long time). We didn't do anything we talked about doing in the game."
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3458.