Apopka rally comes up short in a classic shootout between state powers

In a game that saw six lead changes, a second straight lightning-delayed halftime, and a frenetic scoring pace, the Apopka Blue Darters came up short in a shootout with the Lakeland Dreadnaughts 42-35. The Blue Darters rallied from an early 17-6 deficit in the first half, but ultimately could not stop the Lakeland offense.

It was a reunion of sorts for Apopka High coach Rick Darlington, who played for Lakeland and its current coach Bill Castle, and was their defensive coordinator early in his coaching career.

Castle has won two USA Today national championships, six 5A state championships and 18 district titles while coaching at Lakeland. Castle is an institution in Lakeland, however Darlington is building a pretty solid legacy at Apopka himself with three state championships and a 151-39 record while coaching the Blue Darters.

Despite the connections between the two powerhouse programs, this was their first encounter in both school’s history, and it was quite a way to begin the rivalry.

The entire first quarter was played on the Blue Darter side of the field, with two Apopka drives stuffed with no first downs, and short punts that left Lakeland with great field position. However the Blue Darter defense stood strong and held the Dreadnaughts to two field goal attempts, the first was blocked by Apopka senior Steven Billings-Larsen, the second, a 28-yard field goal, was successful which gave Lakeland a 3-0 lead.

In the second quarter Apopka got back on track when they went on an 80 yard drive which ended with a 48 yard touchdown pass from Jecoryan Davis-Hamilton threw a short pass to freshman running back Eric Wright, who eluded tacklers and scampered 48 yards for a touchodwn with 8:35 left in the second quarter. The extra point was failed, but Apopka took the lead 6-3.

Lakeland answered just two plays later on an 85-yard touchdown run, and with the extra point retook the lead 10-6. Then after a penalty-plagued Blue Darter drive, Lakeland went 80 yards on just four running plays and scored on a 4-yard touchdown run, and with the extra pont extended its lead to 17-6 with 3:37 left in the quarter.

Apopka responded with an 11-play, 85-yard drive that featured a 40-yard gain on a Hamilton pass to tight end Jalen Carter. The drive ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Hamilton. After another missed extra point, Apopka cut the Dreadnaught lead to 17-12 with 1:53 left in the half.

Before the half ended, the Dreadnaughts put together a drive that crossed midfield, but Blue Darter sophomore defensive back Anthony Fieldings intercepted a Lakeland pass deep in Blue Darter territory to end Lakeland’s progress and the half. Fieldings also broke up two would-be touchdown passes in the first quarter.

In the second half, Lakeland moved right back into Apopka territory with a 25-yard pass reception, and an Apopka a facemasking penalty, but the drive stalled and the Dreadnaughts settled for a 35-yard field goal to extend its lead 20-12.

The Blue Darters evened the score after senior linebacker Isaiah Williams recovered a Dreadnaught fumble, and seven plays later Hamilton scored on a one yard run and then scored again on a two-point conversion to even the game at 20-20. But Lakeland answered again with a long touchdown run. The extra point failed, but the Dreadnaughts retook the lead 26-20.

The Blue Darters took their first lead since the first quarter when Hamilton found a hole and ran 51 yards for a touchdown, and a successful extra point gave Apopka a 27-26 lead with 4:35 left in the third quarter. The seesaw third quarter continued when Lakeland retook the lead with a 15-yard touchdown pass followed by a 2-point conversion to give the Dreadnaughts a 34-27 lead.

In the fourth quarter Apopka regained the lead with a 40-yard touchdown run by Cornelius Williams and a two-point conversion run by Hamilton. With 5:15 remaining in the game, the Blue Darters led 35-34. But two plays later, Lakeland responded with a 45-yard touchdown run, and a two-point-conversion to lead 42-35 with 4:21 left in the game.

The Blue Darters regained the football twice before the game ended, but were unable to capitalize on either drive.

The loss drops the Blue Darters to 1-1 on the season, with a classic matchup against the Dr. Phillips Panthers next week. Last season, the Panthers were runners-up in the state championship. However Apopka beat Dr. Phillips 15-14 in the regular season. Kickoff is at Dr. Phillips High School at 7 PM.

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