LAND O’ LAKES — Nothing was going to stand in the way of Sunlake running back Nathan Johnson’s third and what eventually became the game-winning touchdown over Land O’ Lakes in a 28-21 overtime dogfight.
Every yard was seemingly tougher and more grinding, but the 5-foot-9, 210-pound bowling ball barreled through defenders up the middle, and the number of hits the junior back absorbed was the price paid for Sunlake to stay alive in the Class 6A-District 6 race.
“He’s what you call the ultimate competitor,” Sunlake coach Bill Browning said. “He’ll tote the mail and do whatever he has to do to gain yardage. We’ve been a smash mouth team this year. We have to adjust to our talent.”
Adjusting to the talent is exactly what Sunlake has done, as the team relied last season upon the likes of quarterback Josh Zifer and tailback Eddie Burgos. With those two out of the equation, Browning and the Seahawks have undeniably given the keys to the offense to Johnson, who rushed for 141 yards on 34 carries and broke the 1,000-yard mark for the season during the contest.
Sunlake quarterback Esteban LeWallen was able to make plays through the air and on the ground because of Johnson’s presence on the field, as Land O’ Lakes dared the junior signal caller to throw with the Gators’ defense playing mostly man to man and loading up the box. LeWallen scored on a 2-yard sneak and made big plays through the air, including a 40-yard completion to Wanya Lamar, which set up a Johnson touchdown about a minute later with 7:30 left in the final quarter.
“He’s got a strong line in front of him,” LeWallen said. “The line opens up holes and (Johnson) runs through them and does his job. He punches up the hole and just does work.”
Johnson’s first touchdown in the first quarter was a 1-yard run and was a mirror image of his other 1-yard score in the fourth period. The final score, though, means so much more for Johnson and his teammates, as it keeps Sunlake alive on the road to the postseason.
“I just do whatever I have to do to win and keep grinding,” Johnson said. “Coach called 25 and I ran my hardest, picked up my knees and did everything I could do to score a touchdown.”
Johnson and his teammates did everything they could to put themselves in position to clinch a postseason berth in the coming weeks. If Sunlake can defeat Fivay, and Spring Hill Springstead can defeat Land O’ Lakes, the Seahawks will be back in the playoffs.
“It’s a big win but it guarantees nothing,” Browning added. “We still have to beat Fivay.”