By Times staff writer
LAND O'LAKES -- They ooze confidence, in the way they talk, the way they play, the way they win games.
Drew Weatherford and Logan Payne walk on the field knowing defenses are focusing on stopping the two of them. And for 48 minutes, it's not so much football as it is a game of keepaway.
"I thought Pasco did a really good job in the defensive secondary against us tonight," Land O'Lakes coach John Benedetto said -- with no sarcasm, just honest praise -- after Friday's 26-19 win.
Here's what really good defense is against these two: Payne had 10 catches for 176 yards and two touchdowns in another win over Pasco, the Gators' fourth in his four years. The Pirates, like everyone in the stadium, saw the last catch coming and simply couldn't stop it.
From 10 yards out, Weatherford lofted a pass to the left corner of the end zone, and Pasco's Marcus Allen leapt, swiped and missed at a ball thrown perfectly to Payne for the winning score with 9 seconds left.
"We knew we could run the fade all day," said the 6-foot-2 Payne, who lined up against the 5-foot-10 Allen most of the night. "I had a foot and a half on him. Don't get me wrong -- he played a heck of a game. He played me very physical, and no one's been that physical with me before."
The touchdown capped a pure Weatherford drive, coming after Pasco tied the game at 19 with 4:36 left. From his 24, he found Payne for 29 yards, then hit tight end Dustin Collins for 14. On second-and-3, he ran for 6 yards to the Pasco 20 with 2:25 left.
The crowd was going wild. Both teams' bands played at the same time. The Gators' leading rusher, Chris Perez, watched from the sidelines in a wheelchair, his right knee badly sprained in the first half. Payne remembered looking at his quarterback in the huddle as he reminded his teammates to stay calm. Relaxed? Weatherford had a foot-and-a-half on relaxed.
"Drew was the most composed person on the field," Payne said. "It's pretty intense out there, and he was just standing there. I'm like, "Drew, you ready?' He's like, "Yeah, man. Let's drive it down their throat.' You can quote him on that."
Two running plays netted 5 yards, and Land O'Lakes called a timeout with 35 seconds left, facing a third-and-5 from the Pasco 15.
"In the timeout, Drew goes, "I'm going to get a touchdown. Let me run it and I'll get the first down.' I had total confidence in him," Payne said.
Weatherford scrambled for 5 yards. Coaches rushed out the field-goal unit, but Weatherford stopped them -- he had the first down, had time for a shot at the end zone.
A field goal would win it for the Gators, but this wasn't a night for kickers. Just ask Payne. In the first quarter, he attempted a 37-yarder, only to see it bounce off the left upright. Pasco was flagged for running into him, giving him another shot from 32, but again the kick bounced off the left upright. Payne's only extra-point attempt sailed wide left.
But Land O'Lakes won with a touchdown not because they can't kick, but rather because they'd simply rather score six. And Weatherford wasn't himself Friday, completing just 14 of 30 passes. In three previous games, he had 10 incompletions in 52 attempts for a ridiculous 81 percent completion rate. Good passers hit 60 percent, maybe 70 on a great day, but 81 percent? It's a free-throw percentage. And 10 touchdown passes -- now 12 -- without an interception is a bit gaudy as well.
"It's astounding," Benedetto said Wednesday. "It's not something you start the season thinking, "After 50 passes, we're pretty sure Drew's going to hit 40 of them. You'd hope you're above 50 percent, and if you throw 10 touchdowns, you're thinking, "As long as don't throw more than five or six interceptions, that's a great ratio.' This is just incredible. It's something I've never been a witness to before."
An undefeated regular season is something Weatherford and Payne have seen before. In 1999, the Gators went 10-0. Payne was a freshman, and Weatherford was an eighth-grader watching his brother, Sam. Now they're looking to do the same thing, with the only real obstacle a regular-season finale with Wesley Chapel.
The Wildcats have six weeks to figure out a way to stop Weatherford and Payne, which may be the only way to stop Land O'Lakes. The Gators will go into that game and each one leading up to it the same way they did Friday, with all the confidence in the world.
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