After a sluggish start, the Knights came out and dominated the Hawks in the second half.
With the end of the regular season fast approaching, Ocoee went into Thursday’s game with Lake Minneola knowing they needed the win if they wanted any shot at a playoff spot.
Thanks to an offensive outburst from quarterback Nick Wright and a defense that found its footing in the second half, the Knights (5-4, 4-2 in 7A District 4) managed to keep their playoff hopes alive in a 26-14 win over the Hawks (4-5, 2-4) on senior night.
But the scoreline doesn’t do the game justice on how truly close it felt — especially early on.
“We were dead and we were flat, and I mean, they’re a good team now — athletic and big,” said head coach Aaron Sheppard. “We just had to do what we had to do, and get ourselves together and get the BYE week dust off. It’s tough especially when it’s late — week eight is a tough time to have a BYE week.”
Despite an early one yard touchdown run on a QB sneak from Wright at the 7:14 mark, the rust of a late season BYE showed as the Knights struggled to put much together on offense outside of their two scoring drives in the first half.
Wright would go on to finish the night with 94 yards and four rushing touchdowns on 23 carries. Through the air he would go 8-for-16 for 70 yards.
The offense itself also had a lot of help from the Knights’ special teams play, which set up both first half scoring drives.
A 32 yard punt return from Lovie Jenkins helped set up Wright’s first touchdown, while a Hawks’ onside kick that careened out of bounds at the Ocoee 42 helped lead the Knights to their second score — which came off of a five yard run by Wright.
Thanks to a few failed two point conversions, the Knights went into the locker room down 14-12, and in need of making some changes.
“We just had to go in and fix ourselves — we had to get our mojo back,” Sheppard said. “We did pretty good, but the adjustments (came) from just talking and seeing what they (Lake Minneola) were doing.”
Whatever Sheppard and his boys talked about at the half clearly worked, as the Knights came out of the gates and just overwhelmed the Hawks.
A defense that had given up some big chunk plays in the first half all of a sudden were playing as if their hair was on fire, and the Knights’ offense simply started clicking.
On the first drive for the visiting side, Markel Howard tore threw the line on fourth down to kill the Hawks’ first drive of the half, before the Knights went right downfield themselves to take a 20-14 lead after an eight yard touchdown by Wright.
Another defensive stop and Wright touchdown later in the fourth quarter would seal up the 26-14 win — keeping the Knights’ postseason hopes alive.
As of right now, the Knights sit just 1.63 points from that eighth and final playoff spot in the 7A power rankings — though the Knights will need Lady Luck to help move past Bartram Trail, First Coast and Chiles.
While there are some things that are out of their hands, the Knights have one more regular season game — one that matters just a little more: the “Battle for the Shield.”
With a win over rival West Orange (6-3, 2-1), the Knights would not only give themselves a better chance at postseason play, but they’d also grab bragging rights.
“That’s a tough team — we have to do, what we have to do to win,” Sheppard said. “I’m sure they’re going in with expectations to win and so are we. We’ll be OK.”