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Wiregrass Ranch controls pace, scores on every possession

The Bulls and Land O’ Lakes agree to a running clock in the first half to help ward off the weather, injuries.
Football teams around Tampa Bay are in action for Week 9 of the regular season. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]
Published Oct. 19

LAND O’ LAKES — As the rain poured on, so did the Wiregrass Ranch points. Weather be darned, the Bulls came out throwing Friday, an 85-yard touchdown on the game’s first play setting the tone for an astonishing outburst.

Wiregrass Ranch (7-1) scored 50 points in the first quarter alone, when host Land O’ Lakes requested a running clock, and the Bulls went on to defeat the Gators 63-7. The Bulls scored a touchdown on all eight possessions, as they had it just once in the second half with the sped-up format.

Rocco Becht was 6-of-7 for 157 yards and three touchdowns, those all coming in the game’s first 4 1/2 minutes. He ended 9-of-12 for 210 and three scores, all coming in the first period with no attempts the rest of the way.

Helping speed up the prolific points pace: Land O’ Lakes turnovers, one on each of its first two plays, and later a pick-6 from Larry Gibbs that made it 43-7 before seven minutes had elapsed.

"I feel bad because I know Land O’ Lakes was kind of injured, but you gotta play the game,” said Wiregrass Ranch head coach Mark Kantor.

Even when they faltered playing the game the Bulls flourished. Big plays wiped out by penalties still went for Becht yards because the infractions were committed downfield. Corneil McCrary, who had a 43-yard TD pass taken back along with a 29-yard run to the 1-yard line, tallied the Bulls’ final score with a 1-yard plunge late in the first half.

Becht hit receiver Tyler Brueckner deep for an 85-yard pass on the first play, then Brueckner recovered a Gators fumble on a flea-flicker attempt to set up Keith Walker’s 16-yard TD run on a pitch. After a Grady Clower interception, Becht connected with Walker in the end zone for a 17-yarder less than two minutes in.

“We knew if we had them in a certain formation, it would give us an opportunity to make a play. Rocco threw a great pass, Tyler did his thing, and off to the races we went,” said Kantor.

Walker would score on all three touches, adding a 30-yard reception a few minutes later. Only the turf monster could stop Walker, as he appeared headed for a punt return TD in the second quarter before losing his footing.

Land O’ Lakes (1-7) got a spark from Hunter Sullivan with a tremendous kick return, going 60 yards while breaking several tackles. On their only venture inside Wiregrass territory the Gators converted, with Ethan Forrester hitting big senior Brett Gwinn from 12 yards out making it 29-7.

Still the Gators were held to negative yardage in the half thanks to 2 1/2 sacks by Dylan Ridolph along with big tackles for loss by Chris Pressley and Tyler Hayes. The yardage count was 327 to minus-5 at the half, and only late runs of 20-plus yards from Reggie Simmons lifted Land O’ Lakes into plus territory with 32.

In the interests of preventing injuries and keeping the margin from growing, Kantor agreed to the running clock. With the downpour growing Wiregrass had the ball two more times, the first a 9-play, 54-yard drive capped by Corneil McCrary’s 1-yard run behind the big right side of the Bulls line.

Nick Gaziano added a 36-yard TD run in the first quarter and ended with 89 of Wiregrass’ 174 yards on the ground. Wiregrass has a key contest at home against Tampa Bay Tech next week.

The rain was actually not bad during the first quarter but got progressively worse, making Land O’ Lakes’ decision to hold Homecoming pre-game in the gymnasium the wise choice. Halftime entertainment became a collage of hit songs made before current Gator students were born, with I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys especially lifting the mood.

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