A multi-touchdown night from Tyler Huff and Jayden Gibson, along with a stifling defense, helped push West Orange to its first playoff win since 2015.
Two weeks ago West Orange won back “The Shield” in a 31-0 blanking of rival Ocoee on its home field during the regular season.
Fast forward to this past Friday — Nov. 13 — night’s Class 8A postseason play-in game against Ocoee (3-5), and West Orange continued its trend of high-scoring offense and stifling defense against the Knights as the Warriors (5-3) took home the 38-0 win in the program’s first playoff victory in five years.
“I don’t think there is a tougher thing in sports,” said West Orange head coach Mike Granato, in regards to having to play Ocoee twice. “I know Coach Sheppard — he’s a great football coach — and they have a good staff, and I knew they'd be coached up and ready to go.
“And that’s something that we preach, we want to have a faceless opponent week in and week out; it’s never going to be about the opponent, it’s going to be about us,” he said. “As long as we continue to practice hard and demand a tough team, then we can have results like that.”
Unlike the last matchup — which saw West Orange take a 3-0 lead into the break — the Warriors put up 17 first-half points against the Knights, and it was largely because of the defense and the connection between quarterback Tyler Huff and receiver Jayden Gibson.
Halfway through the first quarter Huff hit a wide open Gibson on a 27-yard toss that helped give the the Warriors the quick 7-0 lead. And it would be a big play by Gibson that would help set up running back Terrell Walden’s 1-yard touchdown run out of the wildcat four seconds into the second quarter to double the Warriors’ lead to 14-0.
While the West Orange offense would put put 17 points in the first half — which culminated with a 25-yard field goal by Riley Boyd with less than two minutes to go — the defense also held its on by keeping the Knights in check. If there was a moment that defined the tone of the game for the Warriors’ defense, it came on the last play of the first half when Dontee Lanier came around the left side and blew up Ocoee quarterback Dylan Wade — causing a fumble that was recovered by the Warriors to end the second quarter.
“We just want to play great defense in the second half and we believe in our defense, and we believe in our special teams — we don't try to be anything we’re not,” Granato said. “Coach Thompson and the defensive staff — they do a phenomenal job, they demand tough (and) they demand a gritty defense.”
The Warriors’ defense would not only dominate, but they’d be a big part of most of the points scored in the second half of Friday’s game.
A forced fumble by Tyson Schwalbach — which was recovered by Joanes Polynice Jr. — eventually gave way to a 14-yard toss from Huff to Gibson with 8:51 left in the third quarter to give the Warriors a 24-0 cushion. Gibson would pick up 112-receiving yards and two touchdowns on four catches.
Not four minutes later and Huff would pick up his last score of the night on a 50-yard touchdown run down the right side of the field to help make it 31-0. Huff finished the night with three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and 143-passing yards on an 8-for-16 night.
To cap off the night, the Warriors’ defense would land one more score as Matthew McDoom would snag an athletic interception — returning the ball 35 yards for the pick-six late in the third quarter to induce the running clock.
Between helping the West Orange program get over its postseason woes, and being able to have a successful season in his first year as head coach, Granato said he couldn’t be more thankful than what he is now.
“It’s a blessing,” Granato said. “I want to thank the big man upstairs, I want to thank my family, the (City) of Winter Garden for continuing to support my family, the coaching staff and the players. They’ve always had players here — and they're always going to have players here — but if you can find the right way to gel, and bring everything together and make it about something more than the individual, you can have results like this.”
With the loss the Knights’ season comes to an end, but the Warriors will get to host Timber Creek (7-1) in the regional semifinal next Friday, Nov. 20. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.