Boys soccer: Land O' Lakes headed 'home'
FORT WALTON BEACH - Land O' Lakes will finally have a "home" game. It may not be at The Swamp, but it will be in Tampa, as the Gators, after downing Fort Walton Beach Chochtawhatee, 2-0, in the Class 3A state semifinal, will play Plantation American Heritage at USF's Corbett Soccer Stadium next Saturday at 11:05 a.m. "This is close as we'll get to home besides the game at Sunlake (in Land O' Lakes)," said 15th-year Gators coach Mark Pearson, who will coach in his second state final game. "And we'll take it every time." Land O' Lakes (23-3-2) scored lighting fast, when, just 10 seconds into the game, Josh Davis chased down a through ball from Nathan Dalton and put away his 32nd goal."I've never scored a goal that fast — EVER," Davis said. "I was celebrating before I knew it." "It was a set play and knew where we could attack very quickly," Pearson added. "Had a lot of film on him and used it well." The Gators dominated the first half over the Indians (22-4), outshooting them 9-5. But Choctaw came out strong in the second half, picking up numerous chances. The defensive line of Sean Young, Frank Pinciotti, Adam Weinstock and Yanci Algarin helped keeper Mitch McCuen, who had four saves, pick up his second-straight shutout and 11th this season. With about three minutes left, Davis put away the Gators second goal, clinching a state title berth, the second in team history. "It's going to be, just, so exciting," Davis said. "The whole school is going to be there, and, if not, we'll get them there, but we deserve to be there. We had to come in, work hard, get down on every player (Choctaw) had, and we just buckled down and go the win." The road back home has been a long one for the Gators, who have been on the road for four-straight postseason games, including Tuesday's region final, which was nearly two hours away in Gainesville. After spending the night in Tallahassee, then making another three-hour trip to Fort Walton Beach, Pearson and company realize the accomplish has been earned. "We were under so much pressure playing at their large field, eight hours away from home and to their credit, they defended very, very well and were very physical," Pearson said. "They had their chances, but our defense was very good tonight. They can be underrated, at times." The Gators, on the playing side, have been extremely dominant throughout the state tournament. They have outscored opponents 16-1, outshot them 75-24 and proven all doubters wrong that Land O' Lakes, typically, "chokes" come the postseason. "We're going to the show now boys," Gators assistant coach Mike Pearson yelled as time expired and the team celebrated. And, for the Gators, it'll be a home show.
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunasTrib.