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Familiar name to start

For two games and a preseason contest, Land O'Lakes coach John Benedetto insisted Ryan Rigau was his starting quarterback and Joe Weatherford the backup.

At Lake City Columbia last week, third-stringer Mark Soril joined the mix. Soril led the Gators on a late drive, capping the 69-yard march with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jerome Blyden in a 28-12 loss.

That connection is unlikely to hook up in tonight's game against Wesley Chapel that could go a long way toward deciding the Sunshine Athletic Conference champion. Benedetto said Soril remains third on the list that now has Weatherford on top.

The quarterback change might have been because of Rigau's three-and-out series to start the Columbia game or the senior's sprained right wrist (on his throwing hand) that occurred during the first half.

Bloodlines also could have been a factor. Weatherford, a sophomore, is the younger brother of Florida State freshman Drew, the most prolific passer in county history (7,657 yards, 79 touchdowns) who led the Gators to back-to-back region finals.

Either way, Joe Weatherford gets the nod to lead the Gators against the Wildcats. How long he remains the starter is anyone's guess.

"I don't know," Benedetto said. "We'll take it week by week."

As for Rigau, a starting cornerback with a team-high three passes defensed, six tackles and an assist, he will not be relegated to the sidelines on offense.

"He'll be ready to play at the quarterback position and he'll play some at flanker," said Benedetto, whose offense uses a flanker as a runner and receiver.

Weatherford is the better passer and Rigau the more effective runner, according to coaches and players.

"I have a stronger arm than he does, but he throws a good ball," Weatherford said of Rigau.

"He probably wanted to pass a little more," Rigau said of Benedetto, adding, "I love running the ball."

Weatherford, who led the Land O'Lakes junior varsity to a7-0 season as a freshman, has passed for a team-leading 177 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in two games. He also has five carries for 1 yard.

Rigau is third on the team in rushing with 27 yards, two more than his passing yards. He has no touchdowns or interceptions.

Against Columbia, Rigau had one incompletion in the first quarter. Weatherford and Soril shared time at quarterback the rest of that game.

"When I saw him with ice on his wrist at halftime, I decided I wasn't going to use him (on offense) for the rest of that game," Benedetto said of Rigau, who played primarily at cornerback against Columbia.

"If you look at the stats, Joe had a pretty good game. He came in and sparked the team," Benedetto said, alluding to Weatherford's 10 completions on 20 attempts with an interception and a touchdown to Develin Robinson.

For Weatherford, starting is not something he was counting on. Still, he added, "I was hoping. I wasn't complaining when I wasn't starting. I'm grateful I'm getting this opportunity."

Taking a backseat to Weatherford, for now, is acceptable to Rigau. Just as long as he plays on offense somewhere.

"It really doesn't matter," Rigau said. "I still want to play.

"If he's going to put (Weatherford) at quarterback, I'd rather play at running back. I don't feel like backing somebody up all year. I want to be a playmaker."

THE MATCHUP

Land O'Lakes leads Wesley Chapel in the all-time series 3-2:

Year Winner Score

2003 Wildcats 24-21

2002 Gators 27-23

2001 Wildcats 18-0

2000 Gators 29-15

1999 Gators 31-14

Since Wesley Chapel opened in 1999, the Wildcats and Gators each have had two unbeaten regular seasons. During that span, Wesley Chapel is 0-3 in the playoffs, Land O'Lakes 4-5 (5-12 overall).

_ STEVE LEE

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