LAND O’ LAKES — Unimpeded. Unchallenged. Undefeated.
For the first time in eight years, Land O’ Lakes has moved into the second half of its season with a perfect record following a 40-17 victory against Cypress Creek on Friday night.
“I’m proud of the kids. ... They’ve worked hard,” Land O’ Lakes coach Trac Baughn said. “We’ve got a bunch of young guys, and they’ve improved tremendously. I just know they’ve got a lot more potential.”
Land O’ Lakes had not started a year with six consecutive wins since 2013, when the Gators finished 8-2 under former coach Brian Wachtel. Land O’ Lakes has outscored foes 246-66, with games remaining against Tampa Catholic, Pasco, Osceola and Keswick Christian.
It was the fourth consecutive loss for Cypress Creek (2-4).
The Gators (6-0) took a while to get into gear on senior night as sophomore quarterback Kyle Horvath teamed with junior wide receiver Kenen Ayala for three touchdown passes (60, 2, 69 yards).
Two big plays in the final 2 1/2 minutes of the first half gave Land O’ Lakes plenty of momentum.
The first — a 60-yard touchdown pass from Horvath to Ayala — put Land O’ Lakes up 17-0 with 2:29 left before intermission. Then with Cypress Creek enjoying its best penetration of the half when a Gator personal foul moved the ball to the Land O’ Lakes 30, Gator senior Jaiden Mayerschoff intercepted a pass from Coyote senior quarterback Owen Walls and appeared headed for a 90-yard scoring return.
But Mayerschoff was hit by a Cypress Creek player inside the Coyote 10 and fumbled. Land O’ Lakes managed to jump on the loose ball and three plays later Horvath and Ayala hooked up for a 2-yard scoring pass with 12.8 seconds left.
The 23-0 lead could have been larger, but Land O’ Lakes penalties (11 for 80 yards in the first half) slowed the offense — including having an apparent 55-yard hook-and-ladder scoring pass from Horvath to senior Hunter Sullivan nullified in the second quarter. Cypress Creek had similar setbacks with more penalty yards (75 on nine infractions) than total offensive yards (73 on 26 plays).
On the game’s first play, Land O’ Lakes junior linebacker Justin Leivas recovered a Walls fumble at the Cypress Creek 25, setting up a 43-yard field goal by sophomore Will Fotopolous.
The Gators put together their best drive on the ensuing series with an eight-play, 95-yard march that was punctuated by a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down by junior Kevin Marks.
Cypress Creek did make history with 10:04 left in the third quarter. Senior placekicker Colton Corrao nailed a 45-yard field goal following a fumble recovery by senior Nicolia Huitz ... the first points the Coyotes have scored on Land O’ Lakes in three meetings (the Gators won the first two games by identical 35-0 scores in 2017-18).
Land O’ Lakes sophomore Ryan Pryce contributed a 2-yard touchdown run and Fotopolous added a 45-yard field goal. Cypress Creek found the end zone twice (a 20-yard pass to senior Dontrell Clerkley from Walls, and a 40-yard run by senior Kione Roberson).
“I’m frustrated about the penalties, and we shoot ourselves in the foot,” Baughn said. “We’ve got so many things that we’ve got to fix.”