Renewing the Rivalry: West Orange, Dr. Phillips to battle for first time since 2010
| 6:15 p.m. September 9, 2015
WEST ORANGE — Rodney Wells doesn’t mince words when talking about how big of a deal Friday’s non-district matchup between his Dr. Phillips Panthers and the West Orange Warriors in Winter Garden will be.
It’s the renewal of a signature rivalry in Central Florida he knows all too well. Wells played for the Panthers during his varsity career, taking on the Warriors each year in the Ol’ Orange Crate Rivalry.
“It’s something the whole city of (greater) Orlando is excited for,” Wells said. “All of their kids, all of our kids are excited about the rivalry.”
Friday’s game, which is expected to produce a capacity crowd at West Orange High School, will perhaps have a different feel from any of the games in the rivalry’s past. Never before have both the programs been so highly regarded on a statewide level, and each team has a host of Division I-level recruits and commitments.
In addition to the financial benefits for the host team given projected gate revenue (Dr. Phillips will host the contest in 2016), the scheduling of one another ensures an early-season test with a playoff-like atmosphere. The Panthers and the Warriors each went undefeated in 2014 before falling in the regional playoffs, and both Wells and West Orange coach Bob Head are hoping to better prepare their teams this fall during the regular season.
Then, of course, there is the history.
Dr. Phillips holds the all-time advantage in the series, 15-9, and won the last two games of the series — in 2009 and 2010 — by blowout. No players remain from that last meeting, but that doesn’t mean the importance of the game to the fan bases and the value of the Orange Crate is lost on anyone.
“We’ve been holding on to the crate for a while, so I’m sure they’re excited to try and get that crate back,” Wells said.
ABOUT THE WARRIORS
Although 45 points against Foundation Academy didn’t surprise many in the Warriors’ opener, racking up 42 points against a Winter Park team ranked right in line with them with relative ease demonstrated West Orange’s explosiveness on offense.
Beyond dual-threat quarterback Woody Barrett’s two long scampers for scores and receiver Eddie McDoom’s 22-yard touchdown catch against Winter Park, running backs Darian Williams and Darlens Mathieu put the game out of reach with long runs and three touchdowns combined. Finding a weakness in this unit during its first two games has proven arduous, although Head had concerns with turnovers ahead of the clash with Dr. Phillips, and the Warriors racked up penalties and missed both field goal attempts versus Winter Park.
“I don’t like turning the ball over,” Head said. “I just want to protect the football and make sure — if we got to punt the ball, we punt it. We don’t turn the ball over. Make that team earn it. That’s the main thing I want to do.”
The defense has forced plenty of three-and-outs and turnovers, including long returns on Antonio Owens’ fumble recovery and Decary Croaker’s interception to negate some of the few drives the Wildcats started to put together. Winter Park’s offense relied heavily on rushing in the first half, banging its heads against the wall that was West Orange’s defense. But when the Wildcats opened their passing game, they nickeled and dimed the Warriors downfield quickly a few times before costly turnovers negated their efforts.
A more balanced, secure and dynamic Dr. Phillips offense could give West Orange problems by keeping defenders guessing, not crowding the box every down as they did through their first three halves of competition. Head said he wanted better tackling from his players, too, a tougher order against stiffer competition.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS
A third of the way through a six-game gauntlet, Dr. Phillips has looked formidable as ever through its first two wins — both on the road.
After an impressive dismantling of Wekiva, 27-0, in Week One, the Panthers survived an upset bid from host Lake Mary and made the big plays necessary to win. Dr. Phillips forced and recovered a fumble as the Rams were looking to take the lead in the fourth quarter, and two plays later, D.J. Charles scored on a 99-yard touchdown run to secure the victory for the Panthers.
“(The team is) young, and they’re just really, really resilient,” Wells said. “They’re not very emotional — they don’t get too high on the highs or too low on the lows. … There were many times in that game that we could have got sad with a young team, could have just buckled. They just play, and I like their enthusiasm, and I like their toughness.”
Dr. Phillips has now won a school-record 35 consecutive regular-season games dating back to 2011.
Although much has been said about the team’s talented junior class, a pair of sophomore cornerbacks on defense — including Tanner Ingle, who has 3 interceptions in two games — has made one of the biggest impacts.
“Tanner Ingle makes plays all over the field, and Chance Bush — we’re very excited to have sophomores making plays like they are,” Wells said. “It’s kind of rare. At Dr. Phillips, you don’t really see sophomores taking the lead and making plays like that.”
Although Wells expressed pleasure with his team’s resolve and its performance in several facets of the game against Lake Mary, he knows that against a team like West Orange that passes so well, the Panthers will have to shore up some areas of weakness and prevent big plays.
• West Orange and Dr. Phillips played for 24 consecutive seasons, dating back to Dr. Phillips’ opening in 1987.
• Dr. Phillips leads the all-time series, 15-9.
• The Panthers won the last two games before the series’ four-year hiatus, handily: 49-6 in 2010, 41-7 in 2009.
• Without a regular-season game the past four years, the only way the two teams could have met would have been in the Class 8A State Semifinals — something that seemed like a possibility during the 2014 season but did not materialize.
Editor's note: Zak Kerr also contributed to this report.