West Orange High School made football history Friday night – and took a major step toward a coveted district championship and a first-round home playoff game.
The Warriors overcame 10-0 and 16-7 deficits en route to finally solving the challenge posed by rival Apopka. Junior wide receiver Eddie McDoom returned the second-half kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown – after wind and heavy rain sent the overflow crowd at Raymond Screws Field scrambling for cover at halftime – and West Orange added the finishing touches in the fourth quarter for a 45-31 victory.
West Orange, which entered the Associated Press Class 8A state poll this week at No. 10, improved to 6-0 overall for the first time since 1996. Fourth-ranked Apopka’s lengthy streak of 15 consecutive victories over West Orange also came to an end.
“This game I felt like we really lived up to what we’re supposed to be,” McDoom said. “Everybody was so worried about how we were going to turn out in this game, but everybody stayed humble and they stayed loose and they kept fighting. We just really fought tonight.”
As important as the offensive contributions were – emerging quarterback Woody Barrett helped lead the way by rushing for two scores and throwing touchdown passes to Rontavious Williams and McDoom – it was big plays on defense and special teams that ensured West Orange’s win.
Apopka (4-2, 0-1) scored 52, 47 and 53 points in the past three head-to-head meetings and that forced West Orange to be in constant catch-up mode. The shoe was firmly on the other foot this time, as West Orange grabbed a 28-16 lead on Dexter Williams’ short touchdown run and Paul Mansingh’s extra point with 8:11 left in the third quarter.
An Apopka fumble led to Barrett’s 34-yard touchdown run and Mansingh’s sixth and final extra point made it 42-23 with 8:44 remaining. The Blue Darters’ final last-ditch drive ended with an interception at the 1:15 mark and set off a jubilant celebration on the West Orange sideline.
Apopka built a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter thanks in part to J.J. Simmons’ 72-yard touchdown reception. The Blue Darters went ahead 16-7 on quarterback Demetri Burch’s 30-yard keeper, but West Orange narrowed the gap to 16-14 at halftime after Barrett lofted a 41-yard scoring strike to Williams with 1:50 left in the second quarter.
“It took us a couple series to really simulate that speed (of Apopka’s offense) and get accustomed to it, but our kids fought,” West Orange coach Bob Head said. “They fought, and at halftime they said we’re not giving up any more scores. So they had that look in their eye and I was like, ‘Wow, I think that we’re ready to go.’ The defense really did a good job.”
The Warriors are 1-0 in the Class 8A District 4 standings with games remaining against Backyard Bowl rival Olympia (away Oct. 17) and Evans (home Oct. 31). West Orange concludes its current six-game homestand on Friday, Oct. 10, against Cypress Creek.