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APOPKA -- It's official, the Apopka Blue Darters have returned.
You won't have to tell that to anybody in Apopka, though. That's because just about the whole town showed up on Friday night as the host Blue Darters (12-2) took a quick 14-0 lead and never looked back, bruising their way to a 38-19 win over top-ranked Dr. Phillips (13-1) in front of a standing-room only crowd at Roger Williams Field in Apopka.
The win, Apopka's eleventh consecutive after starting the season 1-2, avenges the 35-17 loss Apopka took against DP to open the season and sends the Blue Darters to the 8A state championship game against Weston Cypress Bay (12-2) next Saturday.
Apopka was held in check to start the game but would get the momentum going early on defense. After pinning DP deep in its own territory, a host of Darters crashed through DP's interior line and blocked a Ricky Buckner punt attempt, giving Apopka possession inside the Panther ten yard line just minutes into the first quarter. Dr. Phillips' defense would stuff the Darters through two downs but it wasn't enough, as junior Zack Darlington tossed a touchdown pass on 3rd and 7 to make the score 7-0 in favor of the Blue Darters.
Dr. Phillips would struggle offensively and Apopka wasted no time keeping the momentum on their side on their ensuing possession.
Following a deceptive mix of runs and passes to get the Darters near midfield, quarterback Zack Darlington hit a wide open and in-stride Trey Hendrickson from 55 yards out to stretch the advantage to 14-0 with over 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter.
Dr. Phillips would answer with a Deionte Gaines touchdown reception, but Apopka went into the half with a 14-6 lead and more importantly, the momentum.
Dr. Phillips' uncharacteristic struggles continued on their first posession of the second half as the Panthers fumbled deep in their own territory, a costly turnover that led to an Apopka field goal to put the Darters ahead 17-6.
It then took Dr. Phillips just three plays to march 75 yards, using a 53 yard run by Eric Harrell to get inside Apopka territory and capping the drive with a 22-yard Roderick Proctor touchdown reception to close the gap to 17-13.
But that's when Apopka proved its intent and it took just two plays to swing the momentum for good.
Facing third and long inside his own territory, coaches son and captain-managementZack Darlington completed a crucial pass to move the chains, giving Apopka breathing room, and then found Trey Hendrickson on a bruising catch-truck-and-run down the home sideline to stretch the lead to 24-13 and erupting the home crowd into a frenzy. Both teams would trade touchdowns and Apopka would seal the deal late in the fourth quarter on an interception returned for a touchdown for the 38-19 final.
The win moves Apopka to the state championship game for the first time since 2001, the year Apopka appeared on "The Year of the Bull" documentary as it beat Miami Northwestern, 34-18 to win the 6A state championship. While that game was seen as an upset, all indicators point to Apopka being favored in their quest for the school's second state title next week
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