With the regular season coming to an end, several West Orange football teams are poised to make playoff runs this fall.
There will be two weeks of previews, as teams’ regular seasons end and they gear up for the playoffs. This week, we previews two teams that have completed their regular seasons and are beginning their postseason journey.
WEST ORANGE WARRIORS
The West Orange Warriors have had a regular season to remember this year. Under second-year head coach Mike Granato, the Warriors finished with a record of 9-1 — their best since 2015. A 13-0 loss to Apopka is the only blemish on their record.
During the season, West Orange won all three rivalry trophies for only the third time in history. The Warriors won back the Ol’ Orange Crate from Dr. Phillips in a 45-7 victory; The Shield by defeating Ocoee 28-0; and most recently the picket fence in Backyard Bowl after beating Olympia 21-9.
West Orange also scored a big victory against Osceola, ending the Kowboys’ 10-and-one-half-year winning streak in district games.
“I’m extremely happy for our program … everything that goes into making Friday night football special,” Granato said. “This season is a tribute to all the parties that give without the thought of receipt. I’m happy that we’ve had back-to-back successful seasons. It would have been back-to-back district championships if last year worked out, which had not happened in a long time.”
The key to West Orange’s success has been using all three phases of the ball to put teams away early. Whether it be offense, defense or special teams, the Warriors have the personnel to make big plays at any time.
The offensive line — collectively known as “The Mob” — has paved the way for a rushing attack led by Terrell Walden II and Jessie Shannon. They also provide protection for quarterback Tyler Huff to either make a big run or make timely passes — usually to wide receiver Jayden Gibson, who committed to the University of Florida last month. Another favorite target of his has been Assad Waseem.
Although the offense is certainly stacked with talent, Granato said the primary strength of the team comes from its defense and defensive line, in general.
“We have got probably the best defensive line I have ever coached or been around across the board,” Granato said. “The kids give relentless effort, and that feeds into the rest of the program. Obviously, we have got special guys on offense, but anyone who comes out to our games knows that our defense sets the tone for how we are going to be throughout the year.”
However, the Warriors struggled with penalties during the Olympia game. One wiped out an interception, and others kept drives alive for the Titans. Those mistakes simply cannot happen in the postseason.
“We have got to clean up our penalties, bottom line,” Granato said. “Every team from this point on is either beatable or has the ability to beat us...if we don’t mature between the whistles. We have to play better all around football.”
Heading into the playoffs, Granato is confident in the group that he has and believes it has the potential to play in December. However, he said there is still plenty of work to do.
“The penalties — the mistakes are going to happen — but it’s my job to curtail those things,” Granato said. “This could be a special run to December or a first-round exit.”
CENTRAL FLORIDA CHRISTIAN ACADEMY
Central Florida Christian already has begun its playoff run, and the Eagles got it started with a bang. Not only did they host a home playoff game, but also the fans who arrived to the game were treated to a second half for the ages.
After trailing to Master’s Academy 17-7 at halftime, Eagles head coach Jeremy Campbell had one message to his team: Don’t worry about the score.
“We need to play CFCA football,” Campbell had said to his team. “Stop killing ourselves with costly penalties and costly mistakes.”
His team responded. CFCA outscored Master’s Academy 40-0 in the second half to run away for a 47-17 victory and advance to the second round of the Sunshine State Athletic Conference playoffs. That win also marked the Eagles’ first home playoff win in their history.
“We’re excited to advance,” Campbell said. “The boys have really worked hard, and (the game) was a testament to that. To see the support from our school and our faculty, students and community — it was wonderful to play that game at home.”
Running back Marcus McCrummin led the way with several key scores. Quarterback Jacob Kania also threw for a touchdown in the second half. On defense, linebacker Noah Maddox made several key tackles to set the tone for the Eagles’ defense.
As the fourth seed in the SSAC playoffs, CFCA now will be playing road games the rest of the way. Its next opponent will be Lake Highland Prep, the No. 1 seed in the tournament. The Highlanders finished the regular season undefeated at 8-0 and crushed Gateway Charter in the first round with a 41-6 victory.
Knowing that every opponent they play the rest of the way will be tough, Campbell sees there still are plenty of areas of improvement.
“We have to start fast,” he said. “We can’t afford to play a half like we did against Master’s and expect to score 40 in the second half. We have to play four quarters of football.”
Some of the keys he says can help facilitate that are being physical on the offensive line to set McCrummin free and keep Kania protected to make timely passes.