Thanks to a stifling defense, the Warriors picked up the victory and will now host Apopka on Black Friday in the regional semifinal.
Death, taxes and a dominating West Orange defense.
The latter of the three has been just a consistent as the former all season long, and it showed in the Warriors’ 26-0 win over Timber Creek in their Class 8A quarterfinal matchup Friday, Nov. 20.
West Orange (6-3) harassed the visiting Wolves (7-2) all night long in a game that saw Matthew McDoom and Jamari Jones each get two picks a piece, while the Warriors’ defense shutout an offense that had been averaging almost 40 points per game.
“I can’t say enough about our defense,” said West Orange head coach Mike Granato. “I say it time and time again — something I learned from Coach (Tim) Shifflet — if you play great defense and solid special teams you're always going to have a chance.”
The Warriors would need that stingy defense early and often, as the offense spent most of the first half shooting itself in the foot with multiple turnovers — though Terrell Walden would pick up his first score of the night on a short run with 4:33 left in the first quarter to give West Orange the 6-0 lead. The following extra point ended up short.
Back on defense, McDoom’s two picks and Jones’s first interception would prove vital to allowing the Warriors to cling to a 6-0 lead at the half, as each helped kill Timber Creek drives in the red zone.
“We got to stop turning the ball over, we have to clean up the personal fouls — that is not going to be something that’s acceptable and I’m going to handle that on Monday in practice,” Granato said.
The issues with turnovers and penalties continued in the third quarter when Walden fumbled the ball away at the Timber Creek 24-yard line, but he’d make up for it on a 10-yard touchdown run the following possession — which was largely setup by a big run from Joanes Polynice Jr — to help make it 12-0 with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
The run game — featuring the one-two combo of Walden and Polynice — would prove to be the second-deciding factor in the game that ultimately led the warriors to a 26-0 victory.
Polynice and Walden would pick up chunks of yards — grinding down the Wolves’ defense — before Walden punched it in on two more occasions. Walden finished the night with three touchdowns and 144-rushing yards.
“We wanted to come in and establish our run game, we added a couple of tight ends and it really helped out for us,” Granato said.
With the win the Warriors will host a familiar foe in Apopka (6-3) — which is coming off of a big 33-7 victory over Winter Park — in the regional semifinal Friday, No. 27. The Warriors beat Apopka in a 15-14 overtime thriller back in mid-October.
“When they ask you a couple of years from now, ‘How was your first year? How’d you guys do?,’ it’s real simple — anybody that knows high school football, if you tell them you're practicing on Thanksgiving they know you had a good year,” Granato said. “So I’m really, really proud of our staff, our players, our community and our parents … I can't thank them enough.”