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Up-front force has Gators 4-0

The line on the Land O'Lakes High football team?

Big. Strong. Experienced.

And 4-0. Even money to go 10-0.

Thanks to the fine play of its veteran offensive and defensive lines, Land O'Lakes is in position to win the Class 4A, District 8 championship, and coach John Benedetto does not discount the possibility of a 10-0 season and more.

"This team can definitely win the district championship," Benedetto said, "and if we have an undefeated (regular) season, there's no telling what might happen. We're just going to keep our fingers crossed and hope things continue to go our way."

The Gators have had their way so far, thanks to their line play. Land O'Lakes is led by two-way starter Mike McBride, an offensive guard and defensive tackle.

"The difference for us is that we have been able to go out and blow people off the ball," Benedetto said. "We've been able to control the ball and control the clock, and that's been the key. We've got nine experienced starters back, and it shows.

"And McBride is as good or better than most players you'll see in this area."

Perhaps that has something to do with McBride's size and strength. There isn't an ounce of fat on his 6-foot-2, 255-pound frame.

"A big reason for our success is all the hard work we've done in the weight room _ that and our experience playing together," McBride said. "We've been together since eighth grade, and we've gotten bigger and stronger each year."

That has helped McBride achieve his goal of "going out and kicking butt every play."

McBride's other goals: "I don't really have any individual goals, because this is a team sport. Our goal is to go 10-0."

Benedetto knows the Gators will have to get past a tough Ridgewood squad to stay on track to a perfect mark. The Rams are 4-1 and feature the most potent offense in the county, led by tailback Chris Carson (458 yards rushing) and fullback Rob Blankenship (400).

"I don't want to go into the game basking in a 4-0 glow," Benedetto said. "And high school kids have a tendency to do that. Ridgewood is an excellent offensive football team, and the key to beating them will be controlling the clock.

"I'm sure they won't worry if we take the opening kickoff and drive 80 yards for a touchdown, because they know they have the type of offense that can strike right back. I'm sure they wouldn't mind a 42-35 game. I'm just the opposite. I'd like to see it 7-0, with us on top, of course."

Land O'Lakes enters the game after a week off. The Gators defeated three-time defending district champion Tarpon Springs 26-14 on Oct.

2 and surprised perennial 3A power Hernando, which was 9-2 last season, 25-14 in the opener Sept.

13.

Ridgewood, which saw a three-game winning streak ended 33-8 by East Lake two weeks ago, dropped Zephyrhills 31-7 Friday.

Last year, Land O'Lakes went 3-7 and Ridgewood 2-8.

"It's nice to see a couple of county schools besides Pasco having good seasons," Benedetto said.

With a victory, Land O'Lakes would be 5-0 for the first time in school history and the game Nov. 13 at East Lake would be for the district championship.

East Lake is 4-0 entering tonight's district game at Gulf (1-4), and the Eagles have defeated Tarpon Springs and Ridgewood for a 2-0 district mark. If Land O'Lakes defeats Ridgewood tonight to reach 2-0, all the other teams in the district would have at least two losses, setting the stage for the Nov. 13 matchup with East Lake.

"We've seen East Lake while we were looking at Ridgewood and Tarpon Springs film, and they are a big, athletic football team," Benedetto said. "It looks like it will boil down to that game, and we could both be 8-0 going into it.

"But it's hard to sit here talking about East Lake when I have Carson and Blankenship to deal with. Their only hope (in the district) is to beat us, and they'll come out ready to play."

"Our interior line is big, strong and quick, and we've been able to control the ball on both sides of the line," Benedetto said. "It's the reason we're 4-0, and if we continue to do that, we'll continue to win football games."

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