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December 7, 2013

Blue Darters to defend their 8A title

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Heading into their 8A state semi-final clash with perennial state power Plant, the Apopka Blue Darters were on target to become the highest scoring team in state history.

After a methodical first half where Apopka only led 14-7, they exploded for 31 points in the second half to down the Plant Panthers 45-29. Not only are the Blue Darters on pace to break the state scoring record, they also handed Plant its first home playoff loss in 23 games and a period spanning back to 1999.

At times it appeared that the home field of magic of Dad's stadium would keep Plant in the game, but the relentless Blue Darter's rushing attack and some key turnovers by Plant doomed any chance the Panther's had to pull more fourth quarter magic.

Plant got the ball first and put together a 10 play drive on the passing of Colby Brown. However, on fourth and 5 from the Apopka 30, the Panther's Alex Jackson was only able to pick up two yards on a rush. Apopka's vaunted single-wing rushing attack lived up to its billing, and the Darters put together a 14-play, 72 yard drive. The Darters were carried down the field by the hard running of Chandler Cox, who accounted for 40 yards on the drive. The drive was capped by a six yard touchdown run by Robert Thomas, who was taking the snaps from the quarter back position. This put the Darters up 7-0 with 3:06 left in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, the Darters put together another 72 yard drive. Again, they ran down the field in the Singe-Wing formation. Robert Thomas, J.J. Simmons and Cox all ran the formation to perfection, with misdirection, double-hand offs, and reverses.

Plant's defenders, often in position, were unable to wrap up the hard running Darters. It finally looked like Plant had Apopka stopped but on fourth and 11, Cox hit Jacob Wittrock with a perfectly placed pass down the center of the field for a 15-yard gain and a first down. On the next play, Cox powered his way into the end zone from 12 yards out, breaking several tackles on his way to pay dirt. This put the Darters up 14-0 with 9:41 left in the second quarter.

Plant finally made Apopka punt on the Blue Darter's third possession and the Panther's took over on their own 28 with about 3 minutes left in the half. The Panthers offense woke up when Brown hit Jackson on a big catch and run that brought into Apopka territory. Brown then hooked up with Cameron Winter for a 13-yard gain. Patrick Brooks then got the corner on a strong 15-yard run that took the ball down to the Apopka 9 yard line. Two plays later Brown found Jackson in the corner of the end zone for a tightly contested touchdown catch. This made the score with only 14-7 with only 33 seconds left in the half.

Apopka got the ball in the second half and marched down the field behind the trio of Cox, Thomas, and Simmons. However the Plant defense stiffened on its own 13-yard line and Apopka was forced to try a field goal. At first glance, it looked the 30-yard attempt would fall short but it barely found its way over the cross bar to give the Darters a 17-7 lead with 7:44 left in the third quarter.

On Plant's next drive, Colby Brown scrambled for what appeared to be a first down on third down and 7, but he was hit and fumbled on his way to the turf. The Darters recovered on the Plant 34 and made the Panthers pay. Cox accounted for 32 rushing yards and got the ball down to the Plant 5 yard line after an 11-yard run. Thomas then took three straight hand offs and fumbled two of them.. The next play Thomas finally punched it in from the 1 yard line. This put Apopka p 24-7 with 2:33 in the third quarter and it appeared to be an almost insurmountable lead.

However, Plant had no quit in them. They quickly answered with a score of their own. Jackson took two snaps under center to convert a first down. On the next play Brown found Winter for a 55-yard touchdown catch. Winter dodged and weaved through several defenders on his way to end zone. This gave Plant life and made the score 24-14 with 1:22 left in the third quarter.

On the next Apopka drive, Simmons made several knifing runs where he ran by and through Plant defenders. The drive was capped by a 22-yard touchdown run that put Apopka up 31-14 early in the fourth quarter.

Plant again refused to go down for the count and answered with a 77-yard drive. Colby Brown connected on all of his passes on this drive, going 6 for 6. The drive was punctuated by a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jackson. This brought Plant to within 10 points and made the score 31-21 with 8:30 left in the game. However, Brown's fine drive was his high-point in the game and he would throw 3 interceptions on questionable passes in the last few minutes of the game.



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