Apopka back home for state semi­fi­nals

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS THURSDAY - By J.C. Car­na­han jcar­na­[email protected]­lan­dosen­tinel.com

HIGH SCHOOL FOOT­BALL

No mat­ter how it plays out Fri­day when Apopka suits up for a Class 8A foot­ball state semi­fi­nal, the Blue Darters de­serve a round of ap­plause from the home crowd.

Apopka re­turns to Roger Wil­liams Field after win­ning de­ci­sively on the road the past two weeks against pre­vi­ously un­beaten teams. The third seed in Re­gion 1, the Blue Darters took care of No. 2 seed St. Johns Bar­tram Trail 34-14 be­fore beat­ing Semi­nole 20-0, which was the top seed as the team with the high­est reg­u­lar sea­son Rat­ings Per­cent­age In­dex in the state.

“It’s kind of hard for peo­ple to come out to the games when we’re trav­el­ing to all these dif­fer­ent places,” said Apopka sopho­more Josiah Robin­son. “With us com­ing home we can have a big crowd and it’ll help us a lot.”

Apopka, ranked No. 3 in the Sen­tinel Su­per 16, is one of three Or­ange County teams in need of one win to ad­vance to state ti­tle games. The Blue Darters (11-1) host Lutz Stein­bren­ner (12-1) of the Tampa area on Fri­day at 7:30 p.m.

“It’s go­ing to feel good to play in front of the home crowd,” Apopka de­fen­sive line­man Jalen Carter said.

In other state semi­fi­nal games in­volv­ing area teams, Su­per 16 No. 1 Edge­wa­ter (12-1) is at Seffner Arm­wood (12-1) in Class 7A and No. 2 Jones (12-1) is home for the fourth straight week against un­de­feated Craw­fordville Wakulla (13-0) in 5A.

Semi­fi­nal win­ners in the up­per classes (5A through 8A) will have an open week be­fore play­ing in FHSAA large-class state cham­pi­onship games, Dec. 11-14, at Day­tona Sta­dium. The 8A fi­nal is set for Fri­day night, Dec. 13. The 5A and 7A fi­nals are set for Satur­day, Dec. 14.

“It’s great for our city, great for our com­mu­nity and our kids to have a big game at our place,” said firstyear Apopka coach Jeff Rol­son. “We’re just thank­ful and blessed to be there.”

Rol­son has the Blue Darters in the semi­fi­nals for the first time since Apopka won a state ti­tle in 2014. He was an as­sis­tant coach on that team un­der Rick Dar­ling­ton, just as he was dur­ing cham­pi­onships sea­sons in 2012 and 2001. Rol­son left Apopka to be­come head coach at Osce­ola from 2006-09, where he led the Kow­boys to a state run­ner-up fin­ish in 2007 and went 37-13 over­all. He then be­came head coach at Panama City Ruther­ford in 2010 be­fore re­turn­ing to Apopka in 2012, where he re­mained through the 2016 sea­son as an as­sis­tant.

Rol­son re­placed Dar­ling­ton in De­cem­ber after the 17-year coach left for a new gig at En­ter­prise High School in Alabama fol­low­ing play­off losses in the sec­ond round dur­ing three of the past four years.

“I came back be­cause I wanted the legacy of Apopka to con­tinue,” Rol­son said. “I love [this] place. I love the town, the pro­gram, and the kids. It’s not me, it’s great kids and great coaches. I’m just thank­ful that we’ve given them some­thing to con­tinue to be proud of.”

STEPHEN M. DOWELL/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Apopka first-year coach Jeff Rol­son has the Blue Darters play­ing in the state semi­fi­nals for the first time since the pro­gram won a ti­tle in 2014.

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