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Ground to a halt

The Land O'Lakes defense stuffs Wesley Chapel's running game in the second half.

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 10, 2002

LAND O'LAKES -- Drew Weatherford and Logan Payne got together for the winning touchdown with 51 seconds left, but what made those heroics possible was a stingy Land O'Lakes defense that took Wesley Chapel's running game away in the second half.

The Wildcats' potent offense had only four first downs after halftime, failing to score and failing to cross the Gators 20-yard line. And when the Wildcats moved into Land O'Lakes territory, the home defense tightened its grip.

"The defense shut them down in the second half," coach John Benedetto said. "I mentioned when we came back to beat Pasco 26-19 that it was one of the greatest games I'd ever been involved in. This was the greatest game I've ever been involved in."

Even on the Wildcats' opening drive, the Gators showed they wouldn't go down easy. Wesley Chapel scored a touchdown, but it needed 16 plays to go 62 yards, converting two fourth-and-1 plays. There were six plays inside the 11-yard line, including three inside the 2. The Wildcats scored 23 points in the first half, but the second half was a different story.

After the Gators drove 80 yards for a touchdown to start the second half, Wesley Chapel's Tyrone Tomlin was stuffed by defensive end Joey Tuttle for a 1-yard loss. The Wildcats attempted a double pass, with quarterback Anthony Rawson throwing wide to Cory Filley, who heaved a pass to midfield that was intercepted by Payne.

A botched punt gave Wesley Chapel the ball on the Gators 36, but the drive stalled at the 20-yard line and a 37-yard field goal attempt went wide.

Wesley Chapel started its next drive on the Gators 40 after Chris Roberts came up with the second interception Weatherford has thrown this season. Another field goal attempt, this one from 48 yards, went wide left.

On the next drive, the Wildcats got a 32-yard pass from Rawson to Jon Muhammad, advancing to the Gators 29. But on third-and-6 from the 24, Tuttle broke through the line and literally threw Rawson for a 13-yard loss, taking the Wildcats out of field goal range.

When the Gators lost a fumble at the Wildcats 1-yard line, Wesley Chapel had a chance to run out the clock.

"We could have taken it from that point, should have controlled the game, but we didn't," Wildcats coach John Castelamare said.

Again, the Gators allowed a single first down, then buckled down.

The ensuing punt gave Land O'Lakes the ball on Wesley Chapel's 40 with 1:34 to play, and Weatherford and Payne did the rest to close out a perfect 10-0 regular season.

Wesley Chapel came in averaging 330 rushing yards a game and 7.8 yards a carry as a team, but on Friday, the Wildcats mustered only 155 on 41 attempts, good for a 3.7-yard average.

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