Familiarity fuels the fourth matchup between West Orange and Apopka within the past two seasons.
WINTER GARDEN In the aftermath of their 49-6 blowout victory over Boone in the first round of the FHSAA Class 8A State Playoffs Nov. 13, the West Orange Warriors got an unusual reward — homework.
In his post-game speech, after learning the Apopka Blue Darters had won their opening round playoff contest, coach Bob Head challenged his players to watch four hours of game film on the Blue Darters over the weekend to begin preparation for the two rivals’ fourth meeting in two seasons Nov. 20.
It was an assignment the Warriors gladly accepted.
“I’m ready to (watch some film) and see what they’ve been up to,” senior wide receiver Eddie McDoom said. “I want to see what they have for us. I’m probably going to watch a lot more than (the required four hours).”
In one sense, things have gone well lately for the boys in blue and orange of late in this series. West Orange (10-1) has defeated the Blue Darters (10-1) two of the past three times the teams have met — an unusual turn in the rivalry that was one-sided in favor of Apopka for the better part of two decades.
“Are you kidding? When you play Apopka, (your defense) has to be huge."
Coach, West Orange football
The outlier, though, is Apopka’s 42-0 trouncing of the Warriors in this same game a year ago. It is a result that has fueled West Orange dating back to that disappointing November 2014 night.
The Warriors got their first shot at revenge earlier this fall in a 28-3 victory on the road in Apopka Oct. 2. In that contest, it was West Orange’s defense — which has been on fire of late — that shined brightest.
It is a performance Head hopes his unit can recreate.
“Are you kidding? When you play Apopka, (your defense) has to be huge,” Head said.
One thing that has been going well for the Warriors in recent weeks is the way the two units — offense and defense — have fed off one another. Their collective success in the first and second quarters over the past two games has led to blowout wins over Ocoee and Boone, respectively.
“The offense — they’ve been a big help,” said senior Decary Croaker, who had an interception in the first quarter against the Braves. “With them scoring like that, it gets us more pumped to play better defense.”
The Warriors have done well this season in scoring on either their first drive or second drive — as they’ve done in each of the past three weeks. That emphasis on setting the tone early could go a long way toward avoiding a repeat of last year, where things started slowly and only got worse as the evening progressed.
“We want to start strong,” McDoom said. “Our mentality coming into the game is just to dominate early.”
Defeating Apopka would be a huge step for the program. West Orange has never waded deeper into playoff waters than the regional semifinals and, although the Warriors have had success against the Blue Darters in recent meetings, the mental hurdle of beating them in the playoffs remains.
What is in encouraging, though, is the focus West Orange has shown in the past two weeks.
“We try to be all-business, all the time,” Head said. “The main thing we try to do is start fast. We feed each other — if our defense gets a stop, it’s an extra possession for our offense.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].