As the clock hits 0.0, pandemonium ensues.
Those players dressed in the orange and blue of West Orange rush to the sideline to seize the ultimate prize of the night: The split-colored shield handed to the victor of the annual West Orange/Ocoee Shield Game.
This symbol of victory — in which the Warriors took following its 31-0 win on Thursday, Oct. 29 — was passed around from player to player, and it became the center of attention as an untold number of photos were snapped. Eventually the Shield made its way into the hands of head coach Mike Granato, who took in the moment as a light rain fell around him.
“It’s phenomenal — I can’t say enough about the character of our team, our leaders and our coaches,” Granato said. “I obviously attribute this all to the community support and the coaches — they work tireless hours, we don’t get paid a lot of money and the kids put up with me day in and day out challenging them.”
Though the final score of 31-0 seems comfortable enough, the first half set a completely different tone.
The first two quarters of play were a slog for both teams offensively, as they struggled in what felt like would be a game of nothing but defense.
It wouldn’t be until the 7:30 mark in the second quarter before either team picked up a first down, and not until there were 30 seconds left in the half before West Orange (4-2) scored the game's first points on a 29-yard field goal by Riley Boyd to give the Warriors a 3-0 lead over Ocoee (2-4) going into the break.
“We believe in our defense — we believe that we always have a shot with our defense and special teams,” Granato said. “We challenged our offensive line and … I told (quarterback Tyler Huff) to play better — you’re missing open receivers, you’re holding the ball too long. But at the end of the day, after you chew them, you come over and you tell them you love them.”
The Warriors took those words to heart.
In the first series of the half, Warriors linebacker Jahshari Jones recovered an Ocoee fumble, before Huff hit Jayden Gibson for a big gain down to the Knights’ 1-yard line. Joanes Polynice Jr. would cap off that quick drive with the 1-yard score to help push the Warriors to a 10-0 lead with 10:48 left in the third quarter.
The next four minutes of the quarter would largely dictate the rest of the game, as the speedy Matthew McDoom reeled off back-to-back touchdowns — one on a 40-yard run, the other on a 65-yard punt return. Huff would get his second touchdown of the night in the final quarter on a 49-yard toss to Jack Main in what would be the loud exclamation mark to finish the game.
“That really just goes to the whole entire offense,” said Huff on the second-half turnaround. “I was playing OK the whole game, but that second half the O-line started blocking — they were doing amazing in the second half — and receivers started getting open and they were doing amazing. I can really only give credit to them.”
For Ocoee, the Knights saw two more interceptions for senior Malik Harp, while running back Charles Pierre Jr. missed his third game in-a-row. Pierre will miss the rest of the season with a right leg injury that will require surgery.
While both teams have one game remaining in the regular season — Ocoee at Freedom, while West Orange hosts Jones — the rivalry will be renewed one more time this year as the Knights play host to the Warriors Friday, Nov. 13, in a postseason play-in game.