Taking a look back at the big schools

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At the beginning of August, sat down and evaluated our 'Top 25' by looking at teams to keep an eye on. Over the next seven days - we'll re-evaluate how we did. Who did we miss on and who did we see good things from. The first series is Class 8A.
The first five
No 3 - Plant - We picked the Panthers in our Top 25 - for obvious reasons. Defending champ and a slew of talent coming back. Who would have known that the Panther offensive line would take such a hit as to lose Rivals250 member Richy Klepal for the rest of his career. Plant lost badly to River Ridge (La.) John Curtiss and never was the dominant program - even though the Panthers finished 10-2.
Once the offensive line was weakened with the loss of Klepal, Plant's offense struggled with an identity Wesley Bullock stepped in admirably, but the Panthers lacked that killer offensive attack that could strike at a moment's notice. Several closer-than-normal games later, Dr. Phillips ended the Plant season 24-7 in the second round of the post-season - marking the first time since 2007 the Panthers didn't make it to at least the regional finals.
No 10 - Columbus - Much like Plant, we looked at who all the Explorers had coming back for 2012 and lauded their team. Four weeks into the season, the Explorers were 2-2 and all but out of the Top 25. Columbus didn't beat a ranked team all year - in fact, the Explorers were 1-4 against Top 25 teams - with only a win over Miami Killian (#22) . Losses to St. Thomas Aquinas, Miami Central and Cypress Bay give credence to a resume, but the inability of Columbus to knock off the big boys hurt.
No. 12 - Cypress Bay - We called this one right. We said that the south championship would come down between Columbus and Cypress Bay - and that's what happened. Led by Matt Dayes and WR [/db]Alex Montgomery[/db] - the Lightning managed to dethrone Miramar for the 12-8A crown and finish on top in the south region. Of course, in the early going - with losses to St. Thomas Aquinas and Manatee - the question was - would this be yet another brides-maid Lightning team - but they finally got past the state semi-finals and were an interception (either way) away from a state crown.
No. 16 - Miramar - Defending 8A runner-up with superstar athlete Jermaine Grace and a group of kids who had a lot of depth. Miramar never really got untracked, stumbling to a mediocre season (by Patriot standards) and losing games they had no business losing (Northeast) while winning games that would keep them on the 'bubble' (St. Thomas Aquinas). Of course, a 'mental lapse' would end up costing the Patriots a shot at the regular season district crown - but the football gods made up for it with an overtime win over the 7A champion Raiders.
No. 18 Fletcher - With all but two players on offense and one player on defense returning from 2011's Cinderella run, the Senators were flat-out loaded. But was 2011 a fluke? Fletcher sure looked like a state champion contender, finding a way to win games they were out of (Sandalwood) but losing a game they had no business losing (Deland). Still, Jamari Smith and company ran all the way to the state quarterfinals before meeting a buzz-saw named Apopka. Fletcher simply ran out of bullets - both against Deland and Apopka. Shut down the run and the Senators struggled.
We missed on these three
- Apopka - State 8A champion
Ok - so we had a few questions about Apopka - and after a 1-2 start looked like they were legitimate concerns. But head coach Rick Darlington texted me early in the year and asked why the Apopka-Dr. Phillips game wasn't one of the 'Ten to Watch' and told me they'd meet again.
He was right and we were wrong. The maturity of Zack Darlington along with a maturing offensive line gave the Blue Darters a 'story-book' run that ended with an interception in the Citrus Bowl late in the 8A game. Of course, there will always be the talk of the interception that happened 3 minutes earlier in that game, but that was ruled off by a late hit.
- Dr. Phillips
Unbeaten going into the state semi-finals with an all-star cast, but the Panthers were caught in the web of the spin masters Darlington - both the elder and the younger. Incredible play by Marcell Harris (when he was healthy) and Eric Harrell along with QB Alton Meeks. 13-1 is nothing to be ashamed of - and the Panthers will be back in 2013.
- East Lake
For the second straight year, the Eagles got to the state regional finals before bowing out. In 2011 it was Plant and in 2012 - it was Dr. Phillips. Pete Dinovo will have to wait until his college days to see if he can win that elusive ring - but oh what a run the Eagles had for the last two years.
Honorable mention - Seminole Ridge,
Tomorrow we'll take a look at 7A.