WINTER HAVEN, Fla. | With the graduation and transfers of key players on offense and questions surrounding the growth of the young players returning on defense, there were several questions that needed to be answered by the Winter Haven Blue Devils this spring.
Winter Haven sent last year's starting quarterback Darian Mills to South Alabama and Kendrick Holland to Virginia Tech. Last year's starting running backs D'Angelo Gaines and Keland White both transferred out of Winter Haven. Gaines will attend Frostproof while White will attend Lakeland Christian.
The spring game wouldn't provide an easy test either as the Blue Devils would square off against the 2013 Class 8A State Runner-up Apopka Blue Darters. Last spring Apopka blitzed Winter Haven 46-13, and with players like Martez Ivey, Benjamin Bascom, Chandler Cox, and Billy Caughell returning for the Blue Darters it would not have surprised many around the state if the game on Friday night turned into another rout.
However, Winter Haven not only managed to pull off the upset, but also find some potential contributors to help out 2015 DT/OL Mike Arnold this upcoming fall.
Rising sophomore quarterback William Tate went 18-of-29 for 292 yards and 2 touchdowns while also adding a rushing touchdown. Rising junior running back Tekendrick Roberson was the Blue Devils' workhorse on the night carrying the football. Roberson finished with 80 yards on 22 carries. Rising senior wide receiver Darius James had 7 receptions for 148 yards and one touchdown.
Apopka's downfall was their slow start in the first half. The Blue Darters' were flagged 3 times on their opening offensive possession including 2 personal fouls by rising senior Martez Ivey. In five first half offensive possessions, Apopka only managed to find the end zone once and that wasn't until 3:28 remaining in the 2nd quarter.
Winter Haven led by as much as 21 points in the second half, but Apopka would show the resilience of a champion and the Blue Darters fought their way back into the game late in the fourth quarter.
Down 28-14 in the 4th, Apopka's rising senior athlete Chandler Cox threw a 28 yard touchdown pass to rising junior receiver David Douglas. Cox would convert the 2-point attempt and the Blue Darters would find themselves down by 6 with 8:25 still remaining in the game. Winter Haven would drive down to the Apopka 22-yard line, but Apopka's Benjamin Bascom forced Winter Haven receiver Darius Philon to fumble the football. Apopka would only need 8 plays to march down the field and take the lead on a 20-yard touchdown run by rising senior J.J. Simmons.
With Apopka leading 29-28 late in the fourth, Winter Haven kicker Nicholas Widner booted a 37-yard field goal as time expired to retake the lead and secure the victory for the Blue Devils.
You can check out Hasani Harper on Twitter - @PolkCountyFB - or on the web at PolkCountyFootball.com.