Apopka Makes 3rd Straight State Final!

The Apopka Blue Darters will take on Columbus from Miami on Saturday, December 13 at the Citrus Bowl for the State Championship! Kick-off is at 7pm but the coverage starts on 1520 WBZW, on the air and online, at 6:30pm with the pre-game show and play-by-play to follow.

Listen to the archived radio broadcast of the Blue Darters victory over Bradenton Manatee in the State Semi-Final here.

(following story reprinted from the Orlando Sentinel)

With its often-maligned defense matching the physical play of its pulverizing offense, Apopka punched its ticket to another state final with a 45-14 victory over visiting Bradenton Manatee on Friday night.

The Class 8A semifinal romp seen by a crowd of over 5,000 sends the Blue Darters (10-4) back to Orlando’s Citrus Bowl for their third consecutive state championship appearance next weekend. Apopka, the 8A state champion in 2012 and runner-up last year, will play Miami Christopher Columbus (13-1) in a final that kicks off at 7:07 p.m. next Saturday night.

Apopka, which was 5-4 and forgotten by most as a championship threat five weeks ago, is averaging 49 points per game in its four playoff wins.

“Our chemistry came together at the right time, the right minute,” said Deshawn Massey, a 5-foot-3 sophomore who gained 145 yards on 14 carries for the balanced Blue Darters. “Adversity hit but we didn’t quit. Now we want to go win the state championship.

Apopka's Chandler Cox rushes past Manatee's George Woodie in a Class 8A state semifinal game. (Stephen M. Dowell, Orlando Sentinel)

Apopka’s Chandler Cox rushes past Manatee’s George Woodie in a Class 8A state semifinal game. (Stephen M. Dowell, Orlando Sentinel)

Auburn commit Chandler Cox ran 20 times for 143 yards, Demetri Burch gained 98 on 16 tries, and Massey, Cox and Burch each tallied three touchdowns as Apopka surpassed 400 yards rushing for the third consecutive week with 448 on 55 attempts.

Dakari Campbell, a blocking back unaccustomed to getting the ball much, went 41 yards on his first of two carries and also caught passes good for 23 and 26 yards.

Apopka High's Dakari Campbell runs during the Manatee at Apopka High School playoff football game on Friday, December 5, 2014. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

Apopka High’s Dakari Campbell runs during the Manatee at Apopka High School playoff football game on Friday, December 5, 2014. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

Manatee managed only 100 yards on its first 37 offensive plays until finding a chink in Apopka’s armor late. Twice wide receiver Kevin McKnight sprinted past the Blue Darters secondary and hauled in TD catches covering 47 and 54 yards from quarterback Sloan Drummonds.

The Apopka defense did its part against Manatee and its star tailback, Johnny Lang, a junior who arrived with 2,106 yards and 32 TDs. He was held to 34 yards and zero points on 14 runs.

Manatee marched to the Apopka five late in the first half. But a 10-yard sack by blitzing linebacker Billy Caughell pushed the Hurricanes back and Apopka stonewalled the next two plays. Roddre Hardwick intercepted a pass into the end zone as time expired with Apopka up 24-0.

“That goal line stand down there I thought was absolutely crucial,” said Apopka coach Rick Darlington. “The defense was phenomenal.”

Apopka head coach Rick Darlington celebrates a touchdown during the Manatee at Apopka High School playoff football game on Friday, December 5, 2014. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

Apopka head coach Rick Darlington celebrates a touchdown during the Manatee at Apopka High School playoff football game on Friday, December 5, 2014. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

Apopka took charge by converting three of its first four third-down plays – all leading to TDs as it built a 21-0 advantage. Meanwhile, Manatee moved the chains on only one of its six third-down plays.

The Blue Darters opened the scoring with a six-play, 92-yard drive ignited by a 23-yard pass from Burch to Campbell. Massey then broke free for a 35-yard TD.

On Apopka’s next third down, Cox ran through a gaping hole up the middle of the field for 47 yards to set up his first TD. The Blue Darters also used a 38-yard play-action pass from Cox to James Crider to set up their third score.

The Blue Darters tasted the long-lingering sweetness of a state championship with a scintillating 53-50 victory over Weston Cypress Bay two years ago, then experienced a bitter taste that has spurred them through the offseason when they lost last year’s final 41-28 to South Dade.

Manatee had gone 7-0 vs. Sentinel coverage area teams in the playoffs since it lost a 14-13 game to Evans in Orlando in 1981. Friday’s game marked the first time Manatee has faced an area team in the state series since 1994, when the Hurricanes won 35-34 at Apopka.

Apopka 45,

Manatee 14

FIRST – A: Massey 35 run (L’Heureux kick); A: Cox 3 run (L’Heureux kick).

SECOND – A: Burch 12 run (L’Heureux kick); A: L’Heureux 21 FG.

THIRD – M: McKnight 47 pass from Drummond (Null kick).

FOURTH – A: Cox 2 run (L’Heureux kick); M: McKnight 54 pass from Drummond (Null kick).

A: Burch 7 run (L’Heureux kick); A: Massey 51 run (L’Heureux kick).

bcollings@orlandosentinel.com. Read Buddy at SentinelVarsity.com and on Twitter at @VarsityBuddy.

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