When it comes to playing a quality opponent — no matter the sport — mistakes simply can’t happen.
Unfortunately for Ocoee High, those mistakes were made at the worst of times in the Knights’ 15-13 loss at the hands of Apopka in their season opener Thursday, Sept. 17.
After the season’s long delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Knights (0-1) finally got the opportunity to take to the field against one of the state’s best teams. They held their own for the most part against the Blue Darters (1-0), but crucial errors cost the Knights their first possible win over Apopka in 14 tries.
“I love to be out here on the grass — it’s a good feeling, but it’s not a good feeling to lose,” said head coach Aaron Sheppard. “We had our shots and we kind of blew it… but Apopka is a good team — No. 2 in the state — so we definitely had our work cut out for us. We knew coming in we couldn't make mistakes like that and win the game.”
Right after kickoff both teams spent the first quarter trying to find their footing after a long offseason, with each struggling with turnovers and penalties before the Knights finally put a strong drive together. That drive continued early into the second quarter, before junior running back Charles Pierre Jr. broke through the line on fourth-and-goal for the 1-yard touchdown — the proceeding extra point from Evan Kowalski made it 7-0 Knights with 10:30 left in the half.
Just over two minutes later the Knights would strike again — this time with a little of the old razzle dazzle — as quarterback Dylan Wade tossed the ball behind the line of scrimmage to Eric Gilreath, who then chucked the ball downfield to Tramari Smith for the 34-yard touchdown. The following two-point conversion failed, but the Knights founds themselves up 13-0 with 8:23 left in the first half.
“I love to be out here on the grass — it’s a good feeling, but it’s not a good feeling to lose. We had our shots and we kind of blew it… but Apopka is a good team — No. 2 in the state — so we definitely had our work cut out for us. We knew coming in we couldn't make mistakes like that and win the game.”
— Ocoee head coach Aaron Sheppard
At this point the Knights were clicking on both sides of the ball. Then, as if a switch was flipped, things changed dramatically.
After driving down the field, Apopka found itself on the Knights’ 16-yard line with 33.9 seconds to go. About eight seconds later, Jaquan Lowman hit Javen Robinson in the back corner of the end zone for the score. A bobbled extra point would fall flat, and the Knights clung to a 13-6 lead going into the half.
“We just slipped,” Sheppard said. “We walked them down the field — we gave them a 15-yard penalty on third down, and then they throw the pass there on third down; those are two big plays for us on that drive that (if we could have avoided) would have sent us into halftime up 13-0.”
The mistakes on that drive would continue to pop up in the second half for Ocoee, and when you combine that with an Apopka defense that would shut down the Knights for the second half, all of a sudden things began to spiral.
With just under six minutes to go in the third quarter, the Blue Darters once again went down the field and scored on a 14-yard run by Lowman that was capped by a successful extra point to tie things up at 13-13. A little over a minute later and the Blue Darters would land what would be ultimately be the death blow.
Stuck deep in its own territory, Ocoee was punting out of its own end zone with 4:39 left in the third quarter, but a bad snap led to the punt being blocked — sending the ball hurdling out of the back of the end zone for the safety. The two points would make it 15-13 in favor of the Blue Darters — a score that would stand until the final buzzer sounded.
Ocoee will look to rebound next week — Friday, Sept. 25 — as the Knights take on Wekiva (1-0) on the road for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
“We’re going to do what we have to do,” Sheppard said. “We’ll line up and play the best we can and put all the effort on the line and we’ll see. That’s a hard playing bunch right there.”