Apopka back home for state semifinals
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.”
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.