In the class 6A Regional semi-final in Florida, Apopka was able to win before a rowdy home crowd, 31-21. The win will send Apopka to the regional final to play the only team that has beaten them--Edgewater.
Sandalwood was able to score on their first drive thanks to a beautiful pass down the right sideline by quarterback Rusty Smith. After that, Sandalwood's offense was never able to find any resemblance of rhythm and consistency, failing to score the remainder of the half.
Meanwhile, Apopka was able to score on a field goal, a pass, and a run; the last score being set up by a medley of errors.
After Apopka scored their first touchdown, they kicked to running back sensation Maurice Wells. Wells botched the kick off and Sandalwood was forced to start at their own fifteen yard line. Three quick plays and a holding call later, Sandalwood punted into the finger tips of an Apopka defender.
Apopka drove inside the ten yard line, then they fumbled. Following the fumble, Sandalwood went three and out and nearly got another punt blocked. Apopka started out inside the fifty and scored a touchdown just before halftime to take a commanding 17-7 halftime lead.
The second half opened with an Apopka drive that lasted over six minutes, converting two third and two fourth downs. Sandalwood looked deflated when an unblocked blitzing linebacker miraculously was able to cause a fumble inside the three yard line, hence saving themselves, temporarily.
Two plays later Smith connected to Jamar Hornsby on a 96-yard touchdown strike that stunned the home Apopka crown and breathed new life into the seemingly defeated Sandalwood Saints. The Smith to Hornsby duo accounted for all of Sandalwood's points.
Apopka seemed to want a quick response, attempting to go deep to Eric Sledge on two consecutive plays, resulting in an overthrow and a sack. Sandalwood, on the ensuing possession, fared no better. Three straight passing plays, where Wells never touched the ball, led to Sandalwood being forced to punt from their own thirty-five. The punt got blocked and scooped up for a touchdown.
There was one last promising drive for Sandalwood, while the game was within reach, but Sledge was able to make a juggling interception that ended any hope for a comeback. The play prior to the interception Sledge drilled a Sandalwood wide receiver trying to run a slant pattern.
"We were playing together tonight, you know," Sledge said. "Flying to the ball."
The story of the night was running back Maurice Wells being held to a dismal thirty-five yards on twenty carries. Most of the time he did not make it past the Apopka defensive line, and if he did, he certainly never made it around the linebackers. Sledge did not have to worry about him at the safety position.
"One play he was so frustrated he hit one of our linebackers," Sledge said. "We knew as a team we could stop him."
Wells spoke briefly about his troubles.
"They got a great defense," Wells said. "My offensive line, they played great all year but just had a little bit of a breakdown at different times and stuff. But the defense we played against tonight was great."
The defense he played against was stifling, and I don't remember Wells breaking many, if any tackles. The offensive line for Sandalwood averages over 300 pounds each, normally wearing down defensive lines, but on this night the opposite proved to be true.
"Ever since our loss to Edgewater we just got better," Eric Sledge said. "We are really looking forward to next week."
A high school football game would not be complete without recruiting updates from Ohio State prospects. I got to speak to a surprisingly courteous, upbeat Maurice Wells about his upcoming trip to Columbus.
You have a busy weekend, right, Maurice?
"Oh yeah. I'm going to leave at four in the morning. As a matter of fact, as soon as I get back I'm going to get packed. That will be around four (a.m.). My flight leaves at six. I should be in Columbus by nine in plenty of time to see the game."
What are your plans once you get to Columbus?
"I've got family up there. I'm just going to meet up with them. I'll get to the stadium, watch the pre-game and hang out with the coaches and then watch the game. I don't know what's going on after that."
Is recruiting getting more intense as signing day approaches?
"Not really. I have had a top four or five all year. OSU, USC, Georgia Tech, Maryland, and then I guess Florida State" (last time I spoke to Wells he had three favorites: OSU, USC, and Georgia Tech, but who is keeping track?).
Is a commitment possible this weekend?
"Naw…well maybe. Anything is possible."
Eric Sledge was kind enough to answer a couple of my recruiting questions as well.
So Eric, who leads and who has offered?
"I'm wide open right now. I'm getting offers from everywhere. I don't really have a leader, but if I had to list schools I'd say all the Florida schools, Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, OSU, West Virginia, Louisville, and Michigan state."
Sledge has a 2.9 GPA and scored a 980 on his SAT's. Coach Heacock is recruiting him for Ohio State.