The Apopka Blue Darters are one step away from their fourth state title, but it's a big step. Apopka takes on the Venice Indians for the Class 8-A State Championship.
It's a true clash of elite high school football programs.
As impressive as Apopka has been in the playoffs, the Indians have been their equal. Venice (13-1) destroyed four straight postseason opponents, defeating Plant City 55-7, Sarasota Riverview 56-14, West Orange 49-7, and Miami Columbus 35-7.
Venice outscored its playoff opponents 195-35, while the Blue Darters held a 125-30 advantage.
The Indians ended the regular season ranked #2 in the USA Today Florida Network Poll of 8-A schools. Apopka finished #7.
Venice also has the advantage in common opponents with a 41-7 win over Edgewater, and a 49-7 playoff rout of West Orange. Apopka lost to Edgewater 16-7 and beat West Orange 13-0; both in the regular season.
But no matter who holds the edge, neither is a stranger to this stage. The Blue Darters won the state championship three times, the last in 2014. The Indians have won two state championships, the last in 2017.
On offense, the Blue Darters have been efficient, patient, and effective. They spread the wealth among several key players.
They are led by senior quarterback Andrew McClain, who has a 58.7% completion rate, 716 passing yards, and 8 touchdown passes. He also has 50 rushing attempts, 196 rushing yards, and 3 touchdowns.
Junior running back Keyondray Jones fuels the potent Apopka rushing attack with 184 carries, 1207 rushing yards, and 12 touchdowns, while junior running back Quincy Frazier is a dual-threat, accounting for 149 rushing yards, but also 30 receptions and 389 receiving yards. He has 11 touchdowns (6 rush, 5 receiving) on the season.
But as effective as the offense has been, it's the defense that's winning games.
In 14 games, the Blue Darters have allowed just 6.78 points per game. They have shut out six opponents (two in the playoffs) and allowed one score or less in 11 games.
They swarm. They wreak havoc on quarterbacks. They create turnovers and they win the line of scrimmage battles. In short, they are an imposing force.
Senior defensive end Tra’vion Barnes (89 total tackles), senior linebacker Josiah Robinson (71 total tackles), junior defensive end Kaven Call (52 tackles, 7.0 sacks), senior defensive lineman Michael Spain (43 total tackles, 6.5 sacks) have led the way all season, while senior defensive back Nikai Martinez, after getting injured early in the season, has returned to rekindle the defense with 2 interceptions; one he returned for a touchdown.
The Indians also have weapons with senior quarterback Ryan Browne throwing for 2,381 passing yards, and 27 touchdowns. He also has 519 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns on the season. Senior running back Damarion Escort is the bell cow on the ground, amassing 209 carries, 1508 rushing yards, and 21 touchdowns. In the air,
senior wide receiver Jayshon Platt is Browne's best target with 55 receptions, 962 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns.
The high-flying Venice attack averages 44.9 points per game.
Kickoff is Saturday at 1 pm at the DRV PNK Stadium (1350 NW 55th Street) in Fort Lauderdale. If you are not attending the game, the Florida High School Athletic Association is livestreaming the game. For details, go here.
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