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Gators' destination still in doubt

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


The political season ended Tuesday, and on Friday the 2000 football campaign will end for seven Pasco County teams.

Only Land O'Lakes has earned a post-season berth.

Gators coach John Benedetto believes he knows who Land O'Lakes will face when the Class 4A football playoffs begin Nov. 17, and he believes he knows where the game will be.

Or so he hopes.

Barring some unforeseen circumstance, Land O'Lakes (7-2), the runner-up in Class 4A, District 6, should meet 4A-4 runner-up South Lake (8-1). The Gators will most likely meet the Eagles on the road, traveling to Groveland.

It would take a very fortuitous turn of events for Land O'Lakes to be able to host that playoff game. First, St. Cloud (3-6) would need to somehow upset South Lake and Land O'Lakes would need to defeat Zephyrhills at Bulldog Stadium in the season finale this Friday, a game that will also decide the Sunshine Athletic Conference champion.

Then, Land O'Lakes' opponents, who have a combined 38 wins this season, would need to come up with a few more victories on the last Friday of the regular season than South Lake's foes, who have a combined 37 wins.

The winner will most likely meet 4A-4 district champion New Smyrna Beach (9-0).

Still, Benedetto knows that most likely, his Gators will try for the third playoff win in his 25-year career on the road.

"I think that all depends on all the tiebreakers, which is based on your opponents' won-loss record," Benedetto said. "But I don't think they're going to lose playing St. Cloud."

Zephyrhills (4-5) hasn't won a game since September, but the Bulldogs hope to snap a four-game losing skid, wrest a share of the SAC crown from Land O'Lakes and avoid a third consecutive losing season with a win Friday night.

But coach Tom Fisher's already thin roster will have to do it without some key players.

Three starters, A.J. Devonshire, Larance Graham and Ben Raines have been suspended from the team for disciplinary reasons.

Devonshire, a 5-foot-7, 150-pound outside linebacker, was suspended for violating school rules. Graham and Raines, who both play defensive back and wideout, were suspended for violating team rules.

Fisher refused to comment on the suspensions.

Those three players accounted for most of Zephyrhills' speed on defense and at wide receiver.

Also, tailback and leading rusher Michael Moody is nursing a left knee bruise and is doubtful to play Friday.

Justin Cobb, a 5-9, 170-pound sophomore, is the lone choice to back up Moody at tailback and will start at cornerback in lieu of Raines. Ryan Meyer will move from inside to outside linebacker in lieu of Devonshire. Nose guard Len Sones, who started at inside linebacker last season, will move back to that position. Fisher will shuffle the defensive line to account for his loss.

Also, tight end Joe Sokol is out with a torn right rotator cuff and two-way lineman Joey Walters is doubtful.

At Pasco, Joe Bain is also hurting from a knee injury. The wide receiver and safety for the Pirates (4-5), who's perhaps the county's top collegiate prospect, will likely miss Friday's game against Wesley Chapel (4-5) at Wildcat Stadium.

"It's still bothering him," Pirates coach Ricky Thomas said. "It doesn't look good for him to play Friday."

Thomas will definitely be without his top lineman, two-way starter Donnie Woods, who suffered either a tear or contusion of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. If it's a tear, no surgery will be performed, and the injury will have to heal on its own.

But Thomas said fullback Kenny Roberts should be ready. Roberts has been held out of practice this week, as he nurses sprained ankles.

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