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Land O'Lakes gave it everything it had

The record cannot be overlooked _ 1-10 in the postseason.

But 2{ yards are all that separated Land O'Lakes from winning its second playoff game and first since a 21-7 win over Lakewood in 1993.

Ocala Forest's stuff of Chris Perez on a pitchout will be etched in the memories of Gators fans for years. As will a 19-yard touchdown pass from Drew Weatherford to Chip Whalen with no time left on the clock in Friday's 7-6 heartbreaking Class 4A quarterfinal loss.

But no scene could describe the so-called agony of defeat more than a forlorn John Benedetto slumped over on the visitors bench afterward. The Land O'Lakes coach sat there stunned and speechless until he composed himself minutes later to answer postgame questions.

Land O'Lakes principal Max Ramos sat down beside Benedetto for a few moments after the game, saying he had never seen Land O'Lakes' 25-year head coach more sullen.

"I could tell he was really, really down and I just went and sat next to him," Ramos said. "I knew nothing I could say would make him feel better. I just wanted to tell him what a good job he and the coaches did.

"That was really a great game, one of the best I've ever seen. I hope (the coaches) get over it. I don't want them to beat themselves up."

The Gators, who bowed out of the playoffs in the first round for the fifth consecutive season, appeared to have things in their favor. At 9-1, Ocala Forest was coming off a 1-9 season and had played two Class 2A teams this year.

Then there was the appearance on the sidelines of senior Mike Otterson, a former Land O'Lakes defensive tackle who suffered a broken left leg and fractured right foot in a car accident in July that left him wheelchair-bound.

"The first few games were really tough. I almost cried," said Otterson, who has been on the Land O'Lakes sidelines for all but one game this season. "Coach (Benedetto) definitely makes me feel part of the team."

Even the turnovers were in the Gators' favor. Joey Tuttle, Richard Carter and Kevin Bogaert recovered fumbles, and Greg Rosenthal intercepted a pass for a 4-2 advantage in that department.

And if that were not enough, Land O'Lakes actually scored twice on its final possession, though only one touchdown counted. With three seconds left, Whalen took a handoff from Chris Clarke on a double-reverse and passed to Weatherford in the left corner of the end zone for an apparent 14-yard score that was nullified because of two ineligible players downfield.

Although games can end on an offensive penalty, Ocala Forest had no choice but to push the Gators back to the 19 since they scored on what could have been the final play of the game.

None of those factors, however, figured into the outcome, which came down to the failed two-point conversion and the chaotic scramble to get players to stop celebrating long enough to run that final, fateful play.

Perhaps with his team's playoff record in mind, or an overwhelming desire to wait no longer for a playoff victory, Benedetto eschewed an extra-point kick. Despite the coach taking the blame and saying a conversion only counts if you make it, there was no second-guessing Benedetto's decision.

"The coach made a great call," Weatherford said. "I respect the fact we went for two."

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