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Ground game lifts Leopards

By STEVE LEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


LAND O'LAKES -- Hernando coach Bill Browning wondered about depth while Land O'Lakes coach John Benedetto went into Thursday night's Kickoff Classic seeking a balanced offense.

Both found a little of what they were looking for in Hernando's 27-16 win at Gator Stadium.

Dee Brown was the game's leading rusher with 75 yards, including a 49-yard jaunt around the left end in which the bruising fullback broke three tackles. But Brown wasn't the only runner who had success against Land O'Lakes. Nine Leopards combined for 352 yards on the ground. A good thing for Hernando because quarterbacks Brad Wyatt and Ozzie Whitten, each of whom engineered a pair of touchdown drives, went a combined 0-for-5. "I thought we played pretty well for a classic," Hernando coach Bill Browing said.

"Right now, we're looking for depth."

Benedetto was more specific. Resorting to the Gators' traditional stable of running backs -- nine players totaled 132 rushing yards -- the coach also wanted to check out how his freshman quarterback would fare against someone other than the Land O'Lakes defense.

Benedetto's wide grin afterward said it all.

"Pretty good, huh," Benedetto responded to questions about Drew Weatherford, who completed 5 of 8 passes for 94 yards, including a 55-yarder down the left sideline to Rich Carter.

That complemented Gator tailback Godfrey Pestana, who rushed for 62 yards and a touchdown.

"If we couldn't do that," Benedetto said about Weatherford's passing, "we'd see eight or nine guys in the box. We won't see that now, and that's just going to free Godfrey up."

Land O'Lakes opened the game with a 16-play, 67-yard drive that chewed up nearly the entire first quarter. After controlling the ball for 9 minutes and 31 seconds, Kyle Crawford kicked a 26-yard field goal.

Hernando answered 2:41 later with Brown's touchdown then took a 14-3 halftime lead on Art Starks' 68-yard scoring run.

The teams traded touchdown runs in the second half with Pestana and Greg Rosenthal scoring for Land O'Lakes and Ryan Bunch and Whitten scoring for Hernando.

The Land O'Lakes defense came up with three turnovers, fumble recoveries by Chris Leslie and Teddy Meade and Clayton Bramlett's interception.

Jason Ingram recovered a fumble for Hernando.

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