By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 3, 2001
WESLEY CHAPEL -- Nothing sums up Friday night's Wesley Chapel-Land O'Lakes knock-down, drag-out, back-alley brawl of a game like this sight:
The Gators' Chris Clarke stumbling to the sideline exhausted, ripping off his helmet and vomiting as his teammates cheered him on.
The Sunshine Athletic Conference title bout between these two playoff-bound teams lived up to its heavyweight billing -- except both offenses were knocked down for the count.
Wesley Chapel finally busted loose from Land O'Lakes' grip in the second half to earn a brutal 18-0 SAC victory thanks to penalties, turnovers and two huge offensive plays.
It was the Wildcats' first-ever victory over the Gators, securing the first 10-0 season in their three-year history. The school earned its first conference crown to go with the team's first district title.
"I told you this game would be tough, and it was right down to the hilt," Wesley Chapel coach John Castelamare said. "John did a heck of a job getting Land O'Lakes ready."
After watching their Gators fall to 7-3, coach John Benedetto and his staff were incensed by the officiating. "It was a fiasco," Benedetto said. "I'm not commenting on this game."
Both defenses came to play, and played hard, shutting down their opponents' respective offensive stars.
Tyrone Tomlin would break off-tackle for Wesley Chapel and find himself pummeled to the ground by the Land O'Lakes defense. He fumbled twice. Drew Weatherford would roll out to fire one of his crisp passes downfield -- and get slam-dunked to the turf by the Wildcats' D. He threw two picks.
That's why it was 0-0 at the half.
Defense keyed Wesley Chapel's second-half resurgence. Kenny "Junior" Roberts knocked the ball loose from Clarke, and Spencer Honeycutt recovered the fumble and plowed ahead for 7 yards to the opposing 14. Tomlin finally broke free for a 6-yard touchdown run, and after the botched 2-point pass it was 6-0 Wildcats.
Land O'Lakes' punted on the ensuing drive. Wesley Chapel took possession, and Tomlin broke free for his longest run of the game, sprinting 69-yards untouched to make it 12-0 with 41 seconds left in the third.
Then penalties robbed the Gators of any comeback hopes. Back-to-back unsportsmanlike infractions -- one on the bench, the next on the defensive huddle -- drove Wesley Chapel downfield.
Then, facing second-and 19 at the 21, Honeycutt took the snap, rolled to his left and sprinted for the end zone. He juked his way past two tacklers, and tippy-toed into the end zone thanks to a Tomlin block.
Weatherford carried his team downfield late in the fourth, but on a mad dash to the end zone he fumbled at the 1. Tomlin recovered the fumble, ending Land O'Lakes' best drive.
Wesley Chapel will open the playoffs at home against Sarasota Booker (6-4). Land O'Lakes will open at Ocala Forest (9-1).