LAND O’ LAKES — Land O’ Lakes brought in an unblemished record. Tampa Catholic came in with determination and dominance on both sides of the ball — hitting the Gators with a 30-point first-half blitz en route to a 58-21 victory Friday night.
History was on Tampa Catholic’s side in its recent series against Land O’ Lakes, winning the past two meetings by scores of 58-0 in 2019 and 47-7 in 2015. And the Gators (6-1) couldn’t elude the past. They also were denied a 7-0 start in 2013 after a 28-21 overtime loss to Sunlake.
“We played good all the way around,” Tampa Catholic coach Jeris McIntyre said. “We ran the ball really, really well. We played some decent defense. I was just happy to come out and compete.”
Tampa Catholic compiled 460 yards in total offense, including 309 on 36 rushing attempts. Junior running back Mario Mayo led the ground game with 212 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns (23 and 62). Junior quarterback Luke Sather completed 8 of 13 passes for 151 yards and a pair of second-quarter scores (43 and 23 yards) to senior Jaquise Alexander.
“Mario Mayo is a really special back,” McIntyre said. “I was happy to see him be able to get comfortable and have a big game tonight.”
The defense forced five turnovers, four leading to Crusader touchdowns. A running clock began after junior Jarod Parker recovered a blocked Land O’ Lakes punt in the end zone on the final play of the third quarter.
Tampa Catholic (4-2) was constantly in attack mode while taking a 30-7 halftime lead. They piled up 298 yards in 41 plays, forced three turnovers (two leading to scores) and amassed 13 first downs. Thirteen plays picked up at least 10 yards. The Crusader defense, led by junior linebacker Corey Lucius Jr., was equally superior, holding Land O’ Lakes to 56 yards in 22 plays (minus-1 on three rushing attempts) and four first downs.
Tampa Catholic set the tone on the game’s first series, driving 45 yards in 12 plays for a 3-0 lead on a 33-yard field goal by senior Eric Fidalgo. Land O’ Lakes then stopped a Crusaders drive inside the red zone as junior Kenen Ayala recovered a fumble by Mayo. But on the ensuing play, Lucius produced a pick-six when he intercepted a pass in the left flat by sophomore quarterback Kyle Horvath. His 3-yard return put Tampa Catholic up 10-0.
On the Gators’ next possession, Lucius came up with another turnover by recovering a fumble by senior Hunter Sullivan on the Land O’ Lakes 28. Six plays later, freshman LJ Elwin scored on a 4-yard touchdown run on fourth down with 16.2 seconds left in the first quarter.
Land O’ Lakes’ only score of the half, a 6-yard pass from Horvath to Sullivan, came after a 6-yard punt set the Gators up at the Crusaders’ 20.
An interception by Tampa Catholic junior Lewis Carter stopped another Land O’ Lakes drive. Senior Gavin Paul also recovered a Land O’ Lakes fumble.
Carnell Herring Jr., a Crusader junior, scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter. Horvath threw three touchdown passes, the final two after halftime to senior Calvin Cockerham and Ayala covering 15 and 54 yards, respectively.
“Turnovers killed us, missed tackles killed us,” Land O’ Lakes coach Trac Baughn said. “Things we got to get better at to beat a good team like this.”