Traveling up the coast for the second straight week, the Gators certainly felt the sting of missing key players and not having the type of depth on the sideline they have become accustomed to this season. Still without any of their seasoned running backs, the Gators were unable to establish their running game, tallying a measly 6 yards total rushing, forcing the Gator offense to pass much more than they ordinarily would have. In past weeks, the running game has been strong enough to overcome multiple turnovers but tonight’s 5 total interceptions were simply too much and the Central Coast took advantage of the mistakes. Following their week 9 defeat to UTS, the Sharks came out looking for revenge and to prove they are a better team than their paltry 2-7 record would indicate. The Sharks were well-prepared with a good game-plan and despite moments of brilliance, the Gators simply did not quite have the goods tonight and fell to the energetic Sharks 14-34.
The Gators opening possession started out strong as interim running back Matthew Schwarz picked up 13 yards on the opening play, cruising through a massive hole created by the offensive line. Next, quarterback Peter Tos found wide receiver Ben Loudon for 12 yards, then wide receiver Thomas Granger for 9 more and it appeared as though the Gators could do wrong but just as quickly as it had started, the drive stalled and the Gators were forced to punt. In an uncharacteristic mistake, the punt-snap flew over the kicker’s head, rolled 15 yards and was scooped up by the Sharks and returned 23 yards for the game’s first touchdown, putting the Gators behind 0-6.
Following a blistering 47 yard kickoff return by Ben Loudon, Peter Tos put up a long ball to slotback Clayton Idato but just overthrew him by inches. UTS was forced to punt again after two more unsuccessful plays and it was finally time for the Gator defense to show what they could do against the upstart Sharks. Holding the Sharks to negative 1 yard on their first possession, invigorated the UTS offense, and going back to the air, Tos, this time, found Idato on a streak route with a perfect pass in the bucket, allowing Idato to cruise into the endzone for a 55 yard touchdown, tying the game at 6-6.
The score remained tied as each team struggled on offense until the closing minutes of the first half when the Central Coast put together a jerky 12 play, 82 yard scoring drive, converting on 3 4th downs, with a 27 yard fake punt run and two 20 plus yard passes, one for the go-ahead touchdown, giving the Sharks a halftime lead of 6-12.
Coming out in the 2nd half, the Sharks bit the Gators with a 53 yard touchdown pass on their second play and then following a 3-and-out by the Gators, the Sharks drove 54 yards in 11 plays, once again, benefiting from serious mistakes by UTS. A roughing the kicker penalty on 4th down kept their drive alive and a mix-up in coverage allowed the Sharks to complete a 6 yard pass on 4th down for the score, extending the deficit to 6-26.
The next four Gator possessions ended in interceptions, though the Sharks were only able to capitalize once for another touchdown when their defense returned the ball to the Gator 24 yard. An unnecessary roughness penalty against the Gators gave the Sharks even better field position, on the UTS 12 yard line, where they were able to run wide and just sneak into the endzone.
One bright spark in an otherwise dismal evening for the Gators, was the overall play by the Gator defense, in particular the front seven. Despite giving up a few medium to deep passes and getting fooled on the fake punt, the UTS defense regularly met the Central Coast ball carriers in the backfield and put pressure on their quarterback all game long. Rookie defensive tackle, Ryan King, just returning from injury, picked up a fumble and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown, late in the 4th quarter, flinging would-be tacklers from his path as if they were toys.
With the final score 14-34, the Sharks defeated the league-leading Gators in the upset of the season and dropped the Gators to 3rd place with a record of 9-2. With a guaranteed playoff berth, the Gators will be looking to find their early-season form this week as they battle the 6-4 Northwestern Predators in a rematch of their week 7 contest where the Gators prevailed 36-6. The Predators are in a must-win situation as they are locked in 3-way tie for the final playoff spot, so this should prove to be a very hard-fought game.
Come cheer your UTS Gators on to victory in their final regular-season game this Saturday night at Kyeemagh RSL.
Kickoff 7:00 pm.