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By Times staff writers and correspondents
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 2000
GROVELAND -- Land O'Lakes finally arrived for a playoff game -- but just two quarters too late to make a difference Friday night.
Groveland South Lake scored 38 unanswered points in a brutal first half of play in the Class 4A playoff opener, and Land O'Lakes answered with 14 unanswered second-half points in a 38-14 loss at Eagle Stadium.
Thus the Eagles (10-1) ended the Gators (7-4) season, and Pasco County's lone playoff team in 2000 fell to 1-9 in postseason play.
It was the last hurrah for Land O'Lakes' senior class, who linked arms in the locker room for an emotional sendoff afterward.
South Lake did everything it could to contain senior running back Godfrey Pestana, who ran for the hardest 65 yards of his four years. But the Gators' all-time leading rusher still set a milestone with 4,048 career yards.
Afterward, he called his fellow seniors together to the center of the locker room.
"We all bled for each other, we all sweated for each other, and I'll be damned if I didn't play for this team," Pestana said. "Everyone gave their hearts out."
There's no doubt the Eagles were the bigger, faster and stronger team entering the contest, but Land O'Lakes didn't help its cause with a rash of mental errors, missed blocks and tackles, and minimal intensity that allowed the Eagles to score on all six first-half possessions -- and score handily.
South Lake outgained Land O'Lakes 387-to-80 in first-half yardage.
Eagles quarterback David Taylor opened the scoring with a 1-yard sneak. Gators quarterback Drew Weatherford's interception led to Perry Garrett's 4-yard scoring run. Fullback Mikel Jorgenson added a 57-yard touchdown run; Rod Roberson took a screen pass 62 yards for a score and scored on the next possession on an 8-yard pass; and Nelson Russell finished off the half with a 6-yard touchdown. He finished with 207 rushing yards.
Land O'Lakes coach John Benedetto calmed his team at halftime and roused their spirits.
"I just told them a little story," he said. "I don't know if that did it or not."
It did, though Benedetto wouldn't divulge his inspirational tale.
Clayton Bramlett made two key interceptions as the defense finally shut down South Lake. Weatherford completed 9-of-19 passes for 155 yards and threw two touchdowns, a 48-yard strike to Chris Clarke in the third quarter and a 12-yard score to brother Sam Weatherford in the fourth. Pestana's leaping dive scored the two-point conversion.
-- JAMAL THALJI
TAMPA -- Jefferson's football field is close enough to the airport that the noise from planes is enough to turn heads away from the game.
From the start of Friday night's first-round playoff game, it didn't take an air traffic controller to figure out which team was taking off and which team simply was hoping to land safely.
Senior tailback Robert Wax went 61 yards on Jefferson's opening play and the Dragons never looked back, humbling Central with a 35-3 victory.
"We told them we couldn't tackle at the ankles, and by God, we did," Bears coach Steve Crognale said.
"We dove for his feet, and we tried to talk to them all week about tackling up high, but it didn't work out," he said.
Central (7-4) saw its season abruptly end at a familiar obstacle.
The Bears have advanced to the playoffs four times in Crognale's six years, but have been badly beaten in the opening round each season.
"We had our goals, and one goal was to get to the state playoffs, and I told them before the game, "We're here. That's what's good about this,' " Crognale said.
"Unfortunately, for the program, it didn't turn out the way we wanted it. I feel there were some people around that thought it would be worse. I'd say we gave them a fight."
Central responded to Jefferson's first score with a drive of its own. Bobby Batista put the Bears on the board with a 30-yard field goal with 4:52 left in the first.
Central didn't get its next first down until the third quarter, when Jefferson was up 21-3.
The Bears moved the ball in the second half, but were doomed by four turnovers inside the Jefferson 30.
David Egan had two passes intercepted in the end zone by D.J. Mey. Jerry Daniels had a 59-yard touchdown run negated by a holding penalty, but he led Central with 83 yards on 14 carries.
Wax finished with two touchdowns and a career-best 195 yards on 16 carries. Matt Glavich threw for three touchdowns and 174 yards.
Jefferson (10-1) hardly let up on Central, throwing deep on first down with a 32-point lead and five minutes to play.
The Dragons went deep again on third down, then attempted a fake punt from their 31, only to see the pass fall incomplete.
Jefferson advances to face Titusville Astronaut in a rematch of last year's regional final, which Astronaut won.
The War Eagles advanced Friday with a 57-0 win over Hernando.
CRYSTAL RIVER -- The final score indicates a blowout, but the fact remains that Friday's Class 3A first-round playoff game at Crystal River boiled down to one factor -- experience.
Crystal River had four years of playoff experience. Blake had none.
As a result, the Pirates (10-1) will gain a little more after a 31-0 win that advances them into the second round for the second consecutive year. Crystal River will host Jesuit, a 29-3 winner over Daytona Beach Seabreeze Friday in the Region 2 semifinals.
"I don't feel we came mentally prepared to play," Yellow Jackets coach Clarence Higdon said. "This is our first time (in the playoffs), and our kids were just excited to be here. (Crystal River) is a team that is returning to the playoffs, and it showed tonight. The timing and everything was off tonight, and it just hurt us."
The Pirates played without leading rusher Nate Madison, who quit the team earlier in the week, but the transition was almost seamless thanks to the performances of running backs Ryan McNally and Chianta Smith and quarterback Clayton Trenary, who helped the Pirates build a 17-0 halftime lead. Smith and Trenary led Crystal River to its first score on its second possession with Smith carrying the ball three times for 29 yards, including a 19-yard jaunt off the left side for Crystal River's first touchdown.
The Yellow Jackets (6-5) marched to the Crystal River 30-yard line on the ensuing possession but fell short when Cory Street's 45-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
After that, it was all Crystal River. Sparked by a 55-yard run from McNally, the Pirates marched to the Blake 10 on the next possession and took a 10-0 lead when kicker Will Bleakley converted on a 27-yard field goal.
Crystal River forced the Yellow Jackets to punt on the next possession and got a break when punter Collin Benyo's knee hit the ground while trying to handle a bad snap, giving the Pirates the ball at the Blake 36-yard line.
It took Crystal River just seven plays to add a second touchdown and take a 17-0 lead after an 8-yard scoring run from McNally.
"It's a great win," said Crystal River coach Jere DeFoor, who picked up his first playoff win. "The kids didn't want this to be the last game. (McNally) played great, and Chianta had a great first half, too."
Injured late in the first half, Smith didn't play in the second, yet it didn't matter. Crystal River all but put the game away on the opening drive of the second half, marching 54 yards in 13 plays and consuming 6:47 off the clock before John Wang put the Pirates ahead 24-0 on a 2-yard scoring run.
-- CAREY FREEMAN
TITUSVILLE -- Titusville Astronaut essentially conducted a 48-minute practice in the Class 3A, Region 2 quarterfinals Friday night, and visiting Hernando was the out-matched scout team.
It was little wonder few home partisans showed up. The Leopards certainly didn't in a 57-0 thrashing.
The War Eagles (9-2) scored on six of their first eight possessions, racked up a 40-0 halftime lead, and then attempted to stay fresh and healthy for their second-round match-up with Jefferson, which eliminated Central on Friday.
Hernando (6-5) was beaten utterly. The Leopards were out-gained 309-36 in total net yards, 217-5 in the decisive first half in which they gained their only first down on an Astronaut penalty, and were incapable of matching up with a War Eagle line that averaged 270 pounds per man.
That girth gap not only allowed Astronaut to run at will, but held Hernando's main weapon -- Dee Brown -- to 29 yards on 16 carries. Brown had just 13 yards on nine carries in the first half.
"That was a big, strong, physical football team with speed," Hernando coach Bill Browning said. "They really took it to us."
Senior tailback Jurrel Elmore led the first-half scoring binge with touchdown runs of 9, 2, and 1 yard, rushed for 115 yards and took most of the second half off.
Senior wideout C.J. Lewis caught two touchdown passes, from two different quarterbacks as Astronaut coach Randy Hallock found positive results on every new wrinkle attempted.
Hernando's inept offense did notmake Astronaut work very hard. The War Eagles started six drives within the Hernando 40. On four touchdown drives in the first half the War Eagles needed 3:13 to score.
Astronaut also demonstrated a bloodlust. Leading 34-0, with 2:33 left until halftime, quarterback Rashad Williams hit Lewis with a 37-yard score over Art Starks on first down for a 40-0 halftime lead.
Hernando appeared ready to recoup some pride when a 63-yard kick-off return by Starks eventually set a first-and-goal at the Astroanut 3, but a 17-yard loss on a Ryan Bunch fumble and a 14-yard sack of replacement quarterback Brad Wyatt ended that.
-- BRANT JAMES
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