LAND O’ LAKES — Land O’ Lakes built a two-score lead in the first half, then had to dodge a missed 42-yard field goal attempt with 19 seconds remaining to survive a 28-26 thriller Friday night.
Sunlake senior Daniel Lester, who had made field goals of 51 and 49 yards, barely missed wide left, keeping Land O’Lakes (4-0) unbeaten and giving the Gators only their second victory over the Seahawks (1-4) in their past 12 meetings.
“It made me sick to see (Lester) out there (with a chance to win the game),” Land O’ Lakes coach Trac Baughn said. “He’s a great kicker. ... I thought he was lights out when he went out there.”
Land O’ Lakes, which built a 28-17 halftime lead on four touchdown passes by sophomore Kyle Horvath (14-of-27, 320 yards), held on despite suffering several injuries and committing 17 penalties totaling 115 yards.
“We had some really young kids out there at the end,” Baughn said. “We’re trying. ... We’re making progress. This is a big win for our kids (and) isn’t something they’re used to experiencing.”
Land O’ Lakes hasn’t been undefeated this far into the season since 2013, when it won the first six games in an 8-2 campaign. Sunlake defeated the Gators 28-21 in overtime to end that streak.
Backup junior quarterback Kaden Peloquin, who replaced injured senior starter Kevin Spillane (leg) in the second half, drove Sunlake from its 23 to the Land O’ Lakes 30 for the potential game-winning kick. An offsides penalty on the Gators put Lester five yards closer, but his kick missed wide.
Sunlake started 1-4 for the second consecutive year.
The Seahawks rallied after halftime as Lester nailed a 49-yard field goal and Peloquin connected with junior Tyler Smith on a 6-yard touchdown pass with 9:17 remaining. Sunlake remained down 28-26 when Peloquin’s potential two-point conversion pass fell incomplete.
There were plenty of first-half fireworks as the teams combined for 433 yards of offense, including 293 by the Gators. Horvath threw his touchdown passes to four different receivers while amassing 267 yards through the air.
Sunlake’s defense scored first on Land O’ Lakes’ initial offensive play, a 17-yard return by Smith on what was ruled a lateral from Horvath into the left flat.
The Seahawks’ 7-0 lead lasted only two minutes as Horvath fired a 24-yard touchdown strike on fourth down to senior Hunter Sullivan. Gator senior John Coggin then set up his team’s ensuing score by recovering a fumble when the ball bounced off a Seahawk punt returner. Two plays later, Horvath connected with senior Calvin Cockerham on an 18-yard scoring pass.
Sunlake pulled even again with 9:22 remaining as Spillane hooked up with Peloquin on a 7-yard TD pass.
Fifty-seven seconds later, Horvath put Land O’ Lakes on top for good with an 80-yard scoring pass to junior Kenen Ayala, who had four first-half receptions totaling 193 yards. After Lester nailed a 51-yard field goal, Horvath finished the second quarter with a 19-yard TD strike to senior David Alejandro with only 13.6 seconds left before intermission.