Stakes high as WO preps for rematch with Apopka in state playoffs

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  • | 12:45 p.m. November 20, 2014
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WINTER GARDEN — It was a win four decades in the making, but don’t expect the West Orange Warriors to savor their 42-21 victory over Timber Creek in the FHSAA Class 8A State Playoffs for very long.

The first playoff win in school history bumped the Warriors (11-0) to 1-5 all-time in the postseason. Still, if West Orange would like to find itself on a bonafide playoff-winning streak, it will have to do something it previously hadn’t done in 15 years for a second time this season — beat Apopka.

Coach Bob Head was doing post-game interviews following the Warriors’ win over the Wolves on Friday — a win that saw West Orange rattle off 35 unanswered points after trailing 21-7 early — when the news came over the public address system. 

The Blue Darters had gone on the road and defeated Oviedo, 41-34, in their own regional quarterfinal matchup, meaning the two programs now will meet in the regional semifinals of the Class 8A State Playoffs and, because the Warriors were district champions, the game will be played again at Raymond Screws Stadium.

Yet, even with home-field advantage and one win over Apopka already to their credit, the boys from Winter Garden and their coaching staff know well the size of the task ahead of them.

“It’s not easy,” Head said of beating a good team twice in one season. “But I feel like it’s our time, and we’re ready.”

Much the same as the regular-season meeting between the two teams, Friday’s playoff matchup likely will be a game decided by big-time playmakers. Back on Oct. 3, it was West Orange’s skill players, led by a dynamic performance by junior receiver Eddie McDoom, among others, who tipped the scale in the Warriors’ favor for a 45-31 victory.

Still, Apopka’s Chandler Cox and DeShawn Massey, among others, are plenty reasons not to count the Blue Darters and coach Rick Darlington out. 

The motivation for the boys from northwest Orange County will go beyond looking for a third-consecutive trip to the state finals, too. 

Apopka was nearly invincible in 2012 and 2013 but has three losses in 2014; uncharacteristic by its high standards. Chief among those losses is the Oct. 3 defeat to the Warriors, given how long the Blue Darters had had West Orange’s number, but a win over the Warriors in the playoffs would surely qualify as redemption for Apopka — and then some.

Working in West Orange’s favor is a knack the team has displayed this season for responding to adversity. The Warriors’ toughest two tests this season — the wins over the Darters and Timber Creek — both saw West Orange trailing early with the potential for things to slip away.

Each time, though, Head’s boys kept their composure and trusted in their big-play ability to lead them back on course.

“We just literally willed ourselves to stay in this game — (Timber Creek) came out and hit us like nobody’s business,” Head said after Friday’s win. “Our kids fought and never panicked.”

The first quarter of Friday’s game was very much “The Jacques Patrick Show,” as the senior running back for Timber Creek and Florida State commit played quarterback for the Wolves out of the Wildcat. 

Patrick rushed for two touchdowns and tossed another in that first quarter.

The Warriors rallied, though, led by several big runs by senior running back Dexter Williams. Williams scored three of West Orange’s first four touchdowns.

“I just told myself to stay humble,” Williams said. “I got the boys believing and next think you know we just turned this game around.”

Starting quarterback Woody Barrett rushed for a touchdown in the first half but was visibly not feeling well on the sideline and came out of the game in the second half, but the Warriors didn’t miss a beat. Senior quarterback Gunnar Ballant stepped in and led two scoring drives – one of which ended with a touchdown pass from Ballant to McDoom.

“I’ve been waiting for (the opportunity),” Ballant said. “Woody is a heck of a player, and, hopefully, he is alright.”

Barrett is expected to be cleared for Friday’s game and the Warriors should be at full strength for what will undoubtedly be the biggest game in program history to date.

Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].


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