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Gators make themselves at home

Land O'Lakes avenges last season's loss to the Bulldogs by returning the favor.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 15, 2002

ZEPHYRHILLS -- Land O'Lakes coach John Benedetto spent the minutes after Friday night's victory snacking on a big cup of boiled peanuts, looking pleased as his players marched off to the buses.

Winning 36-0, over rival Zephyrhills, on the road at Bulldog Stadium, and doing so in triumphant fashion can have that kind of calming effect on a coach.

"They've been thinking about this game for a long time," Benedetto said, "and I'm very happy with the way they played. I think it's a very gutsy performance by our football team tonight."

And a dominating one. But then, it's no wonder Benedetto looked so content Friday night. His Gators certainly weren't. They attacked the opposition from the start. Land O'Lakes rolled to 396 yards while holding Zephyrhills to 112.

The Gators have outscored the opposition 91-18 to start 2-0 on the season and in the Sunshine Athletic Conference.

Not only is Land O'Lakes one of just four undefeated county teams, but the Gators are also one of only two undefeated teams in Class 4A, District 6. Ridgewood is the other; Central, Mitchell, Springstead and River Ridge are 0-2.

That means Land O'Lakes is the front-runner in the 4A-6 district race and a threat to Wesley Chapel's SAC crown.

But the Gators, who are quickly learning just how good they can be, want more.

"They want to go 10-0," Benedetto said. "That's a big challenge. There are eight other ballclubs that are going to come after them."

There was no lack of confidence on the Gators' sideline after the game, the kind that comes from shutting out one of the county's most consistently successful programs on its home turf.

"It was a big win for us," wideout Logan Payne said. "We're for real now. We beat Zephyrhills. To come out here and win 36-0, it shows we came to play."

The margin of victory was no surprise to quarterback Drew Weatherford.

"I definitely thought we could do it," he said. "To be frank, I thought in the first half we kind of let down. We should have been up by one more touchdown in the first half."

Friday night's game was the continuation of the growing pains that began last season, when Zephyrhills won this matchup 21-12 at the Gators' home field.

"We developed into a pretty good football team last year," he said. "But we were very young. A lot of the guys were on the field when we lost to Zephyrhills at home last year. It hurt to lose that ballgame."

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