What began as a intense rivalry turned into a hot mess.
Pasco and Land O' Lakes, already rivals but now district foes, battled out a forceful game Monday night. And though the Gators came out with a 6-2 win, it was before a barrage of cards and player ejections.
"I didn't see all of it, but I look up and I see a mess and (Pasco's bench) running onto (the field) and that's when I said lets get everyone off," Gators coach Mark Pearson said. "This is our third game of the year, but my guys should know better than that and retaliating to things that happen on the field is something no players should do."
Halfway through the second half, the game lost control when Pirates keeper Angel Garcia and Land O' Lakes forward Miguel Laliberte both went for the ball. Garcia took a swing at Laliberte, then fellow Gators forward, Andy Garica, shoved Angel Garcia in retaliation.
Both Garcias were given red cards and ejected, and this followed a red-card ejection for Pasco's David Navarro and an earlier two-yellow-card ejection of Pirates defender Justin Smith.
For final 15 minutes of the game, Land O' Lakes played with 10 players, while Pasco played with just nine, and coach Barry Grayling had to use stern coaching to control his players.
"I'm not going to comment on the discipline that will happen, but we did get back in this game, but they got a couple more goals on stupid mistakes that we made and it all went to pieces," Grayling said. "We gave away three stupid goals tonight, but the other three they got right out."
The Gators (2-1, 1-0 Class 3A-District 7) struck quickly, scoring just 20 seconds into the game as Andy Garcia passed to Pat Lawson. Land O' Lakes made it 2-0 six minutes later, as Lawson put in a rebounded shot.
"We came out fast, but that did get us out of our game plan a bit and lost control there at the end (of the first half)," Pearson said. "We settled down in the second, and once we got ahead and in the lead, that's when things got chippy. That happens and players get upset, but that's why the referees are there."
Pasco (1-1, 0-1) cut the lead in half four minutes later when Dillon Dunbar crossed to forward Jose Flores, who stuck it past first-year Gators keeper Mitchell McCuen. The Pirates were then awarded a penalty kick just two minutes into the second half, and Nestor Ponce buried it to tied the score.
"We're going to work on not making dumb mistakes and carrying on to let the game get away like this," Grayling said. "It's not as though we can't play soccer — this mess is just how the game went tonight."
Land O' Lakes never looked back once the Gators were given a free kick outside Pasco's goal box on a hand ball by Angel Garcia. Nathan Dalton buried the go-ahead goal, then 10 minutes later Andy Garica set up the ball for Jake Frahm, who sent it through to Josh Davis.
Davis put away his first of two goals, while his second was a spectacular 35-yard-plus floating shot that found the back of the net. After the near bench-clearing brawl and dust settled, Chris Wilkinson added a late goal on a header from Clay Ward.
Despite the unfortunate events, Pasco might find a positive, as Grayling says changes need to be made to find better unity and leadership, as veteran players like Dunbar and fellow senior Steven Mazza were frustrated with the extracurricular activities and the bad loss.
"We'll do what we need to do to make this team right," Grayling added.
As for the Gators, Pearson wants to correct early-season mistakes, but is still happy to drop six goals on a tough rival like Pasco.
"We have a lot of fluidity with different players that can rotate and play the positions between defense and midfield," Pearson said. "That's what's good for us from Jake (Frahm) to Nathan (Dalton) to Sean Young, so we've got a lot of options for the whole year.
"We'll correct mistakes and flaws and sort it out, but tonight is a good win and one that I'm more than happy to take this early in the year."