For 16 years, the West Orange Warriors and Ocoee Knights have battled on the gridiron for “The Shield” — the coveted prize for the victor.
After a two-week delay because of COVID-19, the two teams will meet Monday, Oct. 11, for the 17th time in their quest for bragging rights.
And although some past contests have been lopsided affairs, this year, both the Warriors and the Knights roll in with a winning record.
SETTING THE STAGE
The Warriors have been red hot to open the season, starting 4-1 with Apopka being the only blemish on their record. The key for them so far has been all three phases of the ball clicking at the same time. If the Apopka game is taken away — during which the Warriors were shut out 13-0 — West Orange has scored more than 40 points in each of its games while allowing just 10 points total.
Their wins include shutouts of East River (48-0) and Windermere (49-0) and a 49-3 win over Wekiva.
On Oct. 1, West Orange defeated Dr. Phillips 45-7 to reclaim the Ol’ Orange Crate for the first time since 2018.
Meanwhile, Ocoee sports an unblemished 3-0 record. The Knights were supposed to play Apopka Sept. 17, but that game was postponed — also because of COVID-19.
The Knights have relied on their defense to hold teams down and give their offense enough time to make plays happen. Their victories have come against Oak Ridge, Wekiva and Olympia. During the Wekiva game, Ocoee scored a touchdown in the final minute to snatch away the victory 14-13. It defeated Oak Ridge and Olympia by a combined score of 65-13.
This will be the 17th time these two teams have faced each other in regular-season action, with a playoff game in 2020 to add, as well — West Orange won that game 38-0. So far, West Orange holds the 10-6 edge in the rivalry after winning five of the last seven meetings, including six in a row from 2010-2015.
But, what is the significance of The Shield, and why are both teams desperate to win it?
One reason is the trophy serves as a metaphorical extension of the battle between communities. West Orange and Ocoee are separated by exactly seven miles.
“It’s a good battle between the two communities that are close to each other and have a lot of history,” said West Orange Athletic Director Lisa Montgomery.
Former West Orange head football coach Tim Smith said it goes even further than just the high schools.
At the Pop Warner level, the games between the Winter Garden Wildcats and Ocoee Bulldogs were referred to as the “Dog and Cat Bowl” — named more for the action in the stands than on the field.
“There would be fights in the stands,” Smith said. “That rivalry was probably more intense than the high school rivalry.”
Ocoee High School and Lakeview High School were closed back in the 1970s to make way for West Orange, which opened in 1975.
When Ocoee High reopened in 2005, the rivalry resumed, with a familiar face from West Orange taking the reins for the Knights. Former quarterback Greg Dailer was the first head coach for the reborn Ocoee Knights.
The first game between the two teams was an emotional one for Smith.
“It was like being a dad,” Smith said. “I was really proud of him. He had never been a head coach, and it was really cool, because I was able to give him a lot of head-coaching responsibilities. Over half of his coaches came from West Orange, because we were all still good friends.”
That friendship did not mean Smith and his team would take it easy on their new rivals. The Warriors beat the Knights so bad the defense allowed only negative yardage.
The rivalry has grown more competitive since then, but West Orange has been the more dominant team.
Although the game has only been around for 16 years since Ocoee High School’s varsity football team debuted, teams already are vying to keep it around. Even though they have won five of the last seven games against Ocoee, West Orange wants to retain “The Shield” at all costs.
“We’d love to keep the shield,” Montgomery said. “We won it last year … and we’d love to keep it in our possession.”
“The Shield” was made by Florida Metal Works, based in Winter Garden. The idea for it came from former Ocoee principal Mike Armbruster as a way to hype up the game not just at the schools, but in the community at large.
And now, for the 17th time, both teams will play not only for bragging rights but also a possible playoff position. First, West Orange and Ocoee have to get through their games against Boone and East Ridge before they can look forward to that.
West Orange plays Thursday, Oct. 7 while Ocoee plays Oct. 8. After that, Monday Night Football shines on Ocoee High School in a clash between these two rivals.