LAND O’LAKES — Sunlake has reclaimed the Butter Bowl title.
The Seahawks were riding an eight-year streak in the rivalry before Land O’ Lakes upended things last season. On Friday, Sunlake overcame a halftime deficit with 21 second-half points to win 34-23 and extend its record to 9-4 since the matchup was first played in 2007.
One key for Sunlake (3-2) was gaining 202 yards on the ground. Junior Maguire Anderson also did a little bit of everything, with five catches for 71 yards, a rushing touchdown, a two-point conversion and an 86-yard pass to senior Anthony Daher on a flea flicker that provided Sunlake’s last score in the fourth quarter.
Sunlake coach Trey Burdick was an assistant for the Seahawks for many years under Bill Browning, but earning his first victory in the rivalry as head coach on Friday night was especially gratifying.
“Any time you can beat your arch rival is amazing,” he said. “These guys knew they let one slip through their fingers last year, so it was a big deal for our seniors to be able to start that streak again.”
Things were fairly balanced on offense in the first half for Sunlake, with sophomore quarterback Kevin Spillane’s 94 passing yards a highlight.
But in the second half, the Seahawks only threw the ball three times, choosing to rely on senior Zach Spicer to carry the ball 20 times for 94 yards and a score as the catalyst for the offense.
Despite trailing 17-13 at the half, Burdick said the team knew what it had to fix to succeed.
"We came out with a good game plan but we were shooting ourselves in the foot — we definitely knew if we played our game in the second half we could win, and we showed exactly what we wanted to show.”
Land O’ Lakes (0-5) saw sparks on offense that haven’t always been evident this season. The Gators only scored 24 points combined in their first four games, and 10 players returned from injury Friday.
Gators senior quarterback Ethan Forrester had his strongest performance of the season, throwing for 201 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing for 113 yards and a score. Sophomore receiver Nick Kleoppel, who had missed time with a concussion, had two catches of 34 and 50 yards (the latter going for a touchdown on a flea flicker) in the fourth quarter. He finished with 104 yards as the top target for the Gators.
Sophomore Hunter Sullivan also scored on a 49-yard throw up the seam from Forrester in the second quarter that gave Land O’ Lakes their largest lead of the game, 14-7.
“It didn’t fall exactly the way we wanted it to,” Gators coach Chad Walker said. “But it was good to have guys who can compete back and we’re a young team still, so we’ll continue to get better and taking small strides.”
Sunlake has a Class 7A, District 9 matchup against Sickles (4-1) next week at home, while Land O’Lakes will look for their first victory against fellow 6a-6 foe Freedom (1-3).