Coaches Corner: Breaking down 8A semi-finals

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Josh Shaffer from Fort Pierce Central High School is our guest analyst this week for class 8A.
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Class 8A has enjoyed quite a shakeup of teams who have moved up from 7A and from teams who went down a classification to 7A. Newcomers to 8A include powerhouse programs in Bradenton Manatee, Jacksonville First Coast, and Fort Pierce Central. Our States biggest classification has also been home to many of the States Nationally ranked teams. Every team that won a round was only rewarded with a new difficult challenge from a Florida Powerhouse. All in all 8A has proven to be an unbelievably competitive classification as we have seen many upsets, surprises, and fun games.
Apopka (12-1) at Tampa Plant (11-1-1)
The champ is still in the building, Apopka should get its biggest test of the year into this final four contest. What a year and what a fantastic coaching job Rick Darlington has done this year.
After losing Nebraska QB commit and son Zack Darlington the Blue Darters rallied as a team switched back to what they know best in the Single Wing offense and lit up all opponents scoring 679 points an average of 52.2 points per game.
Currently they are 67 points from the State Scoring record. Their offense presents a lot of challenges, first they are led by a well-disciplined, extremely physical offensive line led by 2015 Tackle Martez Ivey. Second, they possess talented ball carriers in Senior Robert Thomas and Junior Chandler Cox. Third - Rick Darlington's offense is extremely difficult to stop.
Combined with a modern pass and play action game, they are using old school single wing concepts to get it done. They will use false pulls, spin concepts, trick plays, and just about anything in any type of playbook to get it done. Defensively Apopka uses a 4-3 Cover 4 to shut opponents down. They are led by two standout defensive ends in Senior Eric Jackson and Senior Anthony Ellis. Ellis is the wildcard moving around from Defensive End to Defensive Tackle, while making a major impact on special teams.
Tampa Plant has been the premier program of excellence over the last decade. Four State Championships 1 State Runner up with an average of 13 wins per year Coach Robert Weiner has that program on a roll with no end in sight as a dominant high school football team. They currently hold a 23 game home playoff win streak.
Offensively they are led by their BIG Offensive line, there may not be a better looking offensive line in the country. They are anchored by Tennessee commit Senior Ray Raulerson and Junior 4 star Offensive Linemen Jake Fruhmorgen. Offensively they are very balanced and multiple, they have over 5,000 total yards on the season with a 2,500 yard thrower in Colby Brown and two rushers who are over 700 yards each in Patrick Brooks and Alexander Jackson.
Defensively Plant is a 3 down front that will bring a lot of boundary or short field overload pressures. Behind it they play a variation of Cover 4. On the defensive side they are led up front by an extremely athletic strong nose tackle Junior Kyle Henderson. Henderson is big at 6'2'' 270 and athletic constantly creating penetration in the backfield. Plant's 3-4 front is less two gap scheme and more of a 1 gap penetration at the snap. Behind big #42 is the Texas commit in Senior Andrew Beck. The best way to describe Beck is a stud, he flies around and makes a lot of tackles. His presence on the field is usually felt early and you can see why Texas would leave the state to recruit this talented Floridian. What makes the defense special is in the secondary. They have three division one players in Wisconsin Safety commit Austin Hudson, USF commit Mazzi Wilkins and a rising Junior Derrick Baity. This group is extremely good at covering WR's in the pass game and limiting big plays.
The keys to the game will be:
- 1. How does Plant's environment affect Apopka,
- 2. Does Plants athletic defense shut down the dynamic offense of Apopka, and
- 3. Injuries, how beat up is each team heading to this contest.
My prediction is this is one is too close to call, there may not be a better matchup in the state to watch, every time you look out there you will be watching 4-5 division 1 athletes go at each other at a time.
Palm Beach Gardens at South Dade
Shock the world! That has to be the mindset of the Palm Beach Gardens football team and Head Coach Rob Freeman. I had the opportunity last year to coach with him and his staff last year and it comes to no surprise they are still in it. Offensively Gardens is a spread team that will mix between 21, 11, and 10 personnel.
Leading the charge is dual threat Quarterback and Appalachian State commit J.P. Caruso. What has made this team special is the amount of injuries they have overcome.
Earlier in the season Coach Freeman and his staff had to replace their entire starting offensive line. Running the ball for Gardens has been standout Junior Tommy Monday. Each round of the playoffs Gardens has entered as the underdog and it has been the outstanding play of Monday and the Gardens defense that has kept them alive.
Defensively they are a base 4-3 Cover 2 team. Defensive Coordinator Dan Sanso is one of the area's best in producing a top defensive unit. Look for them to again rely on great defensive play and a strong running game to again pull the upset.
South Dade has been on the brink of greatness the last three seasons. This is the first State Semi-Final appearance for the Buccaneers and it has to be credited to leadership of first year head coach Nate Hudson.
Offensively the Bucs bring in a high flying spread offense. Don't let the last two weeks fool you, the second round was a mud soaked contest, and the third round was a downpour. With that the offense runs through talented Quarterback Kahlil Render throwing to his weapons on the outside Miami Commit Tyre Brady, Florida State commit C.J. Worton and Antwan Cordy, who holds offers from Duke, Tennessee and Syracuse.
Defense is the name of the game for the Buccaneers as they have held opponents to only 14 points in the playoffs and a 137 all year.
They are led by two standout defensive ends, Senior Demetrius Willis and Junior Anfernee Jennings. This should be a low scoring game as both defenses come into the game as top units in their respective areas.
The keys to this game will be:
- 1. Who puts points on the board,
- 2. Weather, the last two games in South Dade have been affected by weather, is this the third one in a row?
- 3. Injuries, as always with this time of the year the amount of depth you have sends you home or keeps you playing.
Is Gardens all the way healthy yet? My prediction is a great defensive battle with South Dade making just enough plays with their playmakers to be too much to handle. I am a fan of the underdog story that has been Palm Beach Gardens.
Final note, congratulations to all the team competing in this round of the playoffs. As I mention earlier this is one of the toughest championships to win in the nation and every round you win you are rewarded with an even bigger, faster, stronger opponent. Enjoy the moment of the weekend and good luck to all going forward.