Déjà vu all over again.
The Apopka Blue Darters rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit with two second-half touchdowns and an ad-libbed 2-point conversion to edge the Dr. Phillips Panthers 15-14.
The come-from-behind victory was eerily similar to last season, when Apopka trailed 20-6 at halftime, only to rally past the Panthers 22-20.
Blue Darter junior cornerback Jarvis Ware ended a 75-yard Panther drive late in the fourth quarter when he stepped in front of a Dr. Phillips receiver and intercepted a pass to thwart a rally that ended Panthers hopes just five yards short.
But on this wild evening of high school football, it was a tale of two halfs… and to continue the Dickens reference, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times.
For Apopka, the first half was their worst.
Dr. Phillips seized the momentum on the opening drive with a 16-play 85-yard masterpiece that concluded when senior running back DJ Charles scoring on a 1-yard dive into the end zone. The Panthers took a 7-0 lead, the first time Apopka trailed all season.
On the ensuing kickoff, Jordan Thompson broke through a hole, but was caught from behind and fumbled giving Dr. Phillips the ball at the Apopka 35-yard line. The Panthers drove to the 14-yard line before Apopka stopped them on downs and took over for the first time.
The Apopka offense did not set foot on the field until 3:45 of the first quarter, and their first drive went nowhere, punting it back to the Panthers with 39-seconds remaining in the quarter.
Three plays later on the first play of the second quarter, senior quarterback Marvin Washington displayed his cannon arm with a 45-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Jequan Burton to give the Panthers a 14-0 lead.
Apopka attempted to cut into that lead at the end of the half when Demetri Burch hit freshman tight end Jackson Darlington in the end zone for what seemed to be a touchdown, but a second referee overruled the catch. It was also argued that Darlington was interfered with, but the ruling stood.
Dr. Phillips went to the half with a big lead and all of them momentum.
Apopka took the second half kickoff, and three plays later senior running back Deshawn Massey took a short pass from Burch, broke three tackles, and squirted free…outrunning the entire Panther defense and scoring from 49 yards out to cut the Dr. Phillips lead in half 14-7.
Meanwhile the Blue Darter defense completely shut down the Panther offense, allowing less than 50 total yards until the final drive of the game.
Apopka took advantage of a shanked 20-yard punt by Dr. Phillips late in the third quarter to have their best field position of the night, starting just 35 yards from the end zone. Nine plays later, Burch scored from five yards out to make it a 14-13 Panther lead with the tying extra point to follow.
But Burch bobbled the snap from center, picked up the football and ran past defenders for an unplanned two-point conversion to give Apopka its first lead of the night 15-14 with 10:32 left in the game.
After Apopka missed a 35-yard field goal with 5:54 left, Dr. Phillips had one final drive to go 80 yards or to get itself in field goal range.
And that's exactly what the Panthers did, led by Washington who threw for 2 first downs and ran for two more. 11-plays and 75 yards later, Apopka found itself defending five yards of ground with only 30 seconds to play. The Panthers could run the clock down, call a timeout and have a chip-shot field goal to win 17-15.
Instead Washington looked to the back corner of the end zone to his favorite target Burton, but Ware stepped inside the route and intercepted the pass, sending the full house at Roger Williams Field into a frenzied celebration. Apopka held on to its 15-14 lead against perhaps the toughest team on its regular season schedule.
The Blue Darters improved its record to 4-0 and will almost certainly maintain their #1 ranking in all of the 8A state polls. Dr. Phillips drops to 3-1. Next week Apopka travels to University High School in Orlando. Game time is 7PM.
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