With some big games looming Sept. 7, Senior Sports Editor Steven Ryzewski reflects on some observations from the first two weeks of the regular-season.
Two weeks of the regular season are in the books and Week Three matchups loom large this week, so here are some key takeaways from what we have seen so far from programs in West and Southwest Orange.
West Orange shows fight — something it’ll need going forward
The West Orange Warriors very nearly completed a comeback that would have had people talking around the state, erasing a 21-point deficit in less than 10 minutes before ultimately falling to Rockledge, 49-42.
As reported by Observer Preps correspondent Chris Mayer, it was a spirited showing that impressed the team’s coach, even if his team didn’t get the W.
“We didn’t quit and that’s the thing I love about our kids – the fight in them,” West Orange coach Bob Head said.
Moral victories don’t count for much, especially with what West Orange is trying to accomplish — making the playoffs while competing in a loaded district — but the fight that the team showed at a moment when it could have folded will come in handy in the coming weeks.
In addition to Dr. Phillips tomorrow, West Orange has games against Wekiva, Jones and Apopka — all of which were playoff teams in 2017 — in the next six weeks.
It’s not crazy to suggest that by the time the final whistle is blown for the game Oct. 12 between West Orange and Apopka that we will pretty much know if the Warriors are a playoff team or not. Having the sort of resiliency the Warriors showed in Week Two will be important during that stretch.
Dr. Phillips offense shows signs of life
It must first be stated that the teams Dr. Phillips played in the preseason and Week One — Osceola in the Kickoff Classic and Georgia state champion Lee County in Week One — are both really good.
Nevertheless, that the most the Panthers — defending state champions in Class 8A — could muster in those first two contests was a respective field goal in the first quarter of each game, was concerning.
And, while the Panthers’ 25-7 win over Timber Creek by no means answers all the questions that have popped up about the Dr. Phillips offense, it was at least a step in the right direction. The Panthers went on a 70-yard scoring drive to open the game and blue-chip junior running back Brandon Fields had a career-high 224 yards.
At this point, Dr. Phillips is still the favorite in its district, but that doesn’t change the fact that the next five weeks of the season — a span that includes four non-district games against three playoff teams from 2017 — will be daunting.
Ocoee might be pretty good
I got the chance to see most of Ocoee’s 49-19 win over Olympia in Week Two — the Knights’ first regular-season win under new coach Aaron Sheppard — and came away thinking I’d seen a team that might be a lot better than folks think it is.
Ocoee still has a lot of things it needs to shore up — penalties, turnovers and allowing big plays — but the Knights are fast. For the three quarters that I got to watch them, at least, they passed the “eye-test” of a team that could be a sleeper to make the playoffs in Class 7A.
Olympia’s season is going to be a process
Teams graduate important players every year — it’s part of the deal in high-school sports — and often when coaches say they have a young or inexperienced roster it feels like an exaggeration relative to what every team has to navigate every season.
That’s not the case with Olympia this fall, though. Just glancing at the Titans’ roster, it’s hard not be struck by how few names of impact players from last year’s team that Olympia has back.
In a preseason interview, Travis Gabriel was clear that his team won’t be using its youth and inexperience as an excuse or a crutch, but it seems clear that this will be a season whose success will be measured less by outcomes of individual games and more by improvement from August to November.
A bright spot for the program is that some of those names that are new to fans are names of players that have plenty of potential. Even in a one-sided loss to Ocoee in Week Two, the Titans showcased big-play potential from young players.
We’re about to learn a lot about TFA
The First Academy football team hasn’t lost a regular-season game in two years, and that is certainly going to be put to the test over the next month — beginning with a much-anticipated game against Orlando Christian Prep tomorrow.
TFA (1-0) lost a good amount of players to graduation and transfer, leaving veteran coach Leroy Kinard looking for new leaders and creative solutions while sticking to the program’s guiding philosophy that has given it so much success in recent years.
I find it unlikely that the Royals have a third consecutive undefeated regular season, and actually think they may be all the better for it. Perhaps some adversity early in the season — starting with tomorrow night’s game — could benefit the team should it again reach the postseason.
SSAC programs start strong
Don’t look now, but Windermere Prep, CFCA and Legacy Charter — the three Sunshine State Athletic Conference programs covered by the West Orange Times & Observer and The Observer — are a combined 6-0 through two weeks of the season.
Now, for the Lakers, coming out of the gate strong is no new development, but the strong start for the two programs that share the same mascot is noteworthy and exciting for those programs.
All three teams will be tested in the coming weeks, so we still have a lot to learn about these teams, but it’s an exciting development to see the coverage’s smaller programs getting off to a solid start.
Lakers defense looms large
It’s really hard to ignore the Windermere Prep offense — it’s been it’s defining trait over the past five years or so — but it is becoming even harder to ignore the Lakers’ defense.
If you include the preseason, Windermere Prep has allowed two points — on a safety — through three games.
That’s less than a point per game.
The Lakers face a very good St. Stephen’s team that they lost to in the SSAC Championship last fall on Friday, so I doubt that points-allowed average will keep, but the fact remains that second-year defensive coordinator Rob Hollway has struck a chord with his defensive unit.
Foundation avoids slow start
The Foundation Academy Lions have had some notable success the past few seasons, but with the caveat that they are a team that starts the season slow — the Lions began 0-2 in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Not so this fall.
Foundation Academy is 2-0 and while some of its toughest tests are still ahead of it, it is very encouraging to see this program coming out of the gate the way it has.
For Windermere Wolverines fans, check out this column I wrote about the team’s near-win against Cypress Creek in Week One — and what it means for the program going forward.