In a game that was dominated by offense from the opening kick it was only fitting that it was a defensive play that sealed the win for Apopka. Junior defensive back Rakeem Smith made an acrobatic interception with 26 seconds remaining to give the Blue Darters a thrilling 53-50 win over Weston Cypress Bay for the 8A Florida State championship.
Apopka was led by junior signal caller Zack Darlington. He accounted for 254 yards passing and 130 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
"Who wasn't a playmaker?" "I was able to sit back there and just pick who I wanted to throw it to," Darlington said. "It was huge. I was just so thankful for how they played.
"There was no one player on this team that played incredible, the whole team played incredible and that's what got us here."
Darlington, 6-foot-1 and 190-pounds, showed why he will be considered on Division 1 quarterback next season in the class of 2014. He has a strong and accurate arm. Darlington throws with velocity and touch and can make all the passes. He can also beat you with his legs, showing good speed, the ability to extend a play and run the football.
This game was a little extra special for Darlington. His father, Rick, is Apopka's coach.
"I took the knee and I saw him and I couldn't hold it in," Darlington explained. "It's just something I've always dreamed of. When I saw my dad, I just started crying. God's given our family so much, it's just incredible."
The two teams combined for an outstanding 1,113 yards of offense.
The Lightning were matching the Blue Darters score for score after falling behind 22-14. Cypress Bay got two incredible performances from seniors Matt Dayes and Alex Montgomery.
Dayes, a running back, rushed the ball 22 times for 174-yards and scored four touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 36 yards. On this night, he was a thoroughbred. He has good size at 5-foot-10 and 200-pounds. He runs with tremendous power. In fact, most of his yards came after first contact. He has good speed and balance and made a few ‘wow' runs on the night when you thought the defense either had him stopped or pinned. Dayes was previously committed to N.C. State but has backed off his pledge.
Montgomery, a wide receiver, was equally as impressive. He caught nine passes for 199-yards and scored three touchdowns and had a key two-point conversion. Montgomery, 6-foot-1 and 195-pounds, made two spectacular touchdown receptions on virtually identical catches. Both were one-handed grabs over a defender draped all over him. Time and time again, when the Lightning needed to move the chains or need a big play in the passing game Montgomery was their go to guy. Montgomery was previously committed to Wake Forest but has opened up his recruitment.
Looking back, no drive loomed larger than the one by Apopka just before half. After Dayes scored from five-yards out with 44 seconds remaining to cut Aopoka's lead to 36-28, the Blue Darters drove the ball and kicks a crucial 45-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. It was those points that became the actual difference in the game.
Cypress Bay took their first lead of the game 50-46 on the second Montgomery highlight reel touchdown reception with 2:26 remaining in the game. On Apopka's next possession it was Montgomery who came up with what they thought was the game winning interception of a Darlington pass as he scrambled to the sideline. The play was nullified by a late hit penalty as Darlington was running towards the sideline. He then led the Blue Darters down the field, where Chandler Cox scored from two yards out to put Apopka up 53-50 with 3:58 left in the fourth quarter.
Cypress Bay quickly moved down the field behind quarterback Jaranta Lewis. He hit Montgomery twice to move the chains and completed a 31-yard catch and run to Dayes. There, they were set up in the Apopka red-zone. On first down with under a minute left, Lewis found wide receiver Chandler Cridler in the endzone running a crossing route but he couldn't hang on to the ball. The very next play, Lewis was chased out of the pocket and try to throw up a jump ball to Montgomery and it was Smith who came down with the ball to save the day for Apopka.
It was only fitting that the final game of the Florida high school football season was this one. It truly was a game for the ages.