Preparing for its first-ever state semifinal, West Orange football seems to have a special resiliency about it this season.
It’s that thing you can’t quite put your finger on.
So, when talking sports, most folks usually just refer to it as “it” or “that thing” or “something special.”
Whatever “it” is, I’m sure this year’s West Orange Warriors have it.
This team is special, and it’s beyond what the Warriors (12-1) put on the field from a pure talent standpoint. Sure, the Warriors are good talent-wise — really, really good. But they were pretty darn good in 2014, and to be honest, there are many really good teams in Florida high-school football.
So what separates them?
There’s coaching, and then there’s luck; but there’s also just “it.”
I think “it” is grit, poise, resilience … and probably a bunch of other words that basically amount to saying the ability to take a punch and get back up. That’s what the Warriors have this fall that perhaps they lacked in past years.
Go all the way back to the third week of the season, Sept. 11, when West Orange beat Dr. Phillips in a thriller. That was a game that, at one point, the Panthers controlled. In a high-stakes shootout in front of a capacity crowd, though, the Warriors were led by senior quarterback Woody Barrett to a comeback victory, 41-34.
In a change of pace from 2014, West Orange also lost this season — actually, the Warriors got thumped by Trinity Christian (Jacksonville), 42-14, a week after beating Dr. Phillips. What they didn’t do, though, is let that loss turn into anything but a reality check that saw them win nine consecutive games since — including two victories over Apopka.
In one of those victories over the Blue Darters, the monumental one that happened just two weeks ago on Nov. 20 in the state playoffs, Apopka took a lead in the fourth quarter. I started to have that “here we go again”feeling — somehow, the Blue Darters were going to find a way to steal a game on the road at West Orange.
Shows you what I know.
It didn’t take long for the Warriors to sprint down the field for a deciding touchdown before their defense, led by the likes of Ben Bollinger and Jeremy Samuels, held ground on a late stand to end it.
Even in games West Orange has been expected to win, there is a noticeable difference in the way the Warriors sprint out to early leads and douse any hopes of an upset before the whistle has blown to end the first quarter.
I’m not alone in this line of thinking.
After his Warriors defeated Mandarin 41-26 in the regional finals of the state tournament, head coach Bob Head told his team that there was something special about this year’s bunch — that, even when they don’t play their best football, they find ways to win and someone steps up.
“They’ve got passion, and they’ve got a lot of heart,” Head told me afterward. “Their integrity refused to let (Mandarin) back in the game.”
Head, of course, was right. It wasn’t the best showing for a West Orange defense that has, for the most part, been great this fall. The Warriors struggled against the Mandarin passing attack and had troubles covering kick returns. Still, every time it looked as if the Mustangs might make things interesting, the Warriors responded.
There is something special about this year’s West Orange football team — and here’s hoping that something continues to be a factor for two more games.