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Gators blank Leopards before lightning ends it

Drew Weatherford completes 7 of 11 passes for 90 yards, and Land O'Lakes' defense allows only 17 yards.

By STEVE LEE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 30, 2002

LAND O'LAKES -- Lightning shortened Thursday's sixth consecutive kickoff classic between Land O'Lakes and Hernando to little more than a quarter.

Land O'Lakes coach John Benedetto did not need that long to assess his high-powered offense.

Led by junior quarterback Drew Weatherford, who completed 7 of 11 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown, the Gators won 20-0 in fewer than 15 minutes of play.

Smiling in the coach's office minutes before Land O'Lakes athletic director Charlie McBride called the preseason game, Benedetto jokingly said, "I'd like to see Drew throw 35 more passes."

Weatherford went 3-for-3 for 44 yards on the opening drive, capping a five-play, 73-yard march with a 14-yard pass to Logan Payne.

Still, the short-lived scrimmage was not solely about Weatherford's passing.

The Gators revealed a balanced offense as Chris Perez gained 22 yards on the first play and ran for a 1-yard touchdown late in the first quarter.

The game marked the first cancellation in the Land O'Lakes-Hernando series.

Had play resumed, backup quarterback Michael Garcia would have taken the snaps until the fourth quarter, when Benedetto planned to insert Michael Dantschyschyn.

For all the Gators' offensive success, the defense was not to be overlooked.

It forced two punts and limited Hernando to 17 yards on two possessions.

The Leopards lost a third possession when kick returner Rod Roberts fumbled and Land O'Lakes' Billy McGrath recovered on Hernando's 31. Four plays later, Eddie Gibbs scored from a yard out.

"That's the key to our team this year," Benedetto said of the defense, which includes nine returners and eight seniors. "That's going to determine how far we go."

"I was very pleased with the way we ran to the ball," Land O'Lakes defensive coordinator Al Claggett said.

With inside linebacker Adam Denicourt suspended for undisclosed disciplinary reasons, the Gators started Scott Mays and Kevan Bogaert inside.

According to Claggett, the defense did not miss a beat. Bogaert stuffed Roberts on an inside trap, and Mays hauled down Jagren Castillo on a sweep.

"As long as the contest went on, they were getting around the football," Claggett said of Mays and Bogaert.

One area of special teams that needs polishing is long snapper Joey Tuttle's hikes on extra points. After Gibbs' touchdown, Tuttle's snap ricocheted off holder Garcia's helmet before sailing to the 35, where Dantschyschyn, the kicker, was smothered by three players.

"Yeah, but I've got my snaps on the punts down," said Tuttle, who Benedetto said is being scouted as a long snapper.

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