LAND O'LAKES — The hope was to face a tough opponent.
The ending proved to be the true lesson, one Land O'Lakes should recall often as it prepares for the postseason.
Tallahassee Lincoln was awarded a free kick outside the Land O'Lakes 18-yard line for one final play. Cesar Vera belted a shot inside the far post for a goal to end the game 2-2.
The outcome felt eerily similar to lost opportunities for Land O'Lakes in recent playoff games. In the past, a great Gators season has too often been followed by an early ending.
That's what made Friday's late setback was so significant.
"It could be good if our players learn from it," Land O'Lakes coach Mark Pearson said. "The problem is players seem to think too many times things will go their way because of who they are and where they play club soccer.
"The bottom line is we've lost two and tied two we had no business tying or losing. … It's due to our players' attitudes more than anything else."
For most of the match, Land O'Lakes (11-2-2) controlled the pace with strong passing and good ball control.
Gators senior Tim Falcon gave Land O'Lakes a 1-0 lead after beating a defender, then blasting a shot from roughly 30 yards as the ball ricocheted off the crossbar.
Lincoln (15-3-1) tied it at 1 when junior Jarrod Ingram raced past Gators defender Frank Villar then sent one past keeper Kody Parker.
Gators senior Jon Wilkinson put the Gators ahead a 2-1 in the second half after taking a cross inside Lincoln's 18, the scoring with his left foot.
"We got outplayed," Lincoln coach Santiago Molina said. "We didn't match up with their speed and skill. But we gritted it out in the second half."
The Gators were coming off a 2-1 loss to Orlando Bishop Moore on Dec. 22, and still have a challenging bracket in the Wharton Invitational before district tournaments.
Friday's ending marred an otherwise peaceful game, and a reunion of sorts. Molina coached Pearson when he was a player at Chamberlain. Molina, who initiated the game, said this marked the second time the two have coached head-to-head.
Lincoln plays at Tampa Catholic today.
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 421-3886.