I have to say - I doubted this team for much of the season.
There was a lot of pre-season hype (top 50 ranking) returning key players from the State runner-up finish last year. We were looking forward to the return of one of our top ATH's and team motivators in Courtney Holmes as well after missing him from knee surgery the entire previous season. Over the summer he got shot and it looked as if he wouldn't play a down.
Losing Chris Merritt as head coach meant there would be a learning curve for the boys, particularly in the offensive schemes. Our QB Moody had a hard time adjusting to the new collegiate style playbook - even alternating back and forth with the #2 QB a sophomore transfer. Losing over half the O-Line to graduation didn't help the scrambling QB either. Also, a bunch of coaches who had stepped down under Merritt, stepped back in under Dunn (Dunn's former crew from back in the day), and the boys had to adjust to that (new DB coach, new RB coach, etc) and the culture that Dunn wanted instilled.
It came down to Coach Dunn benching a bunch of starters including the QB in the first half of the Dillard game. After that, you can sense the team maturing and falling in line with the program's new culture. Dunn also scaled down the playbook from the earlier part of the season as well. Offensive confidence improved greatly after that.
The playoff run following that Dillard loss was where the team started coming together - We had beaten Miami High and CG during the regular season, so I wasn't surprised there and these were off-seasons for both of those programs. I had my doubts entering into the Western game, but starting from the first series, I became a believer. The kids played with heart. Holmes in particular has stepped up in his leadership role and was now closer to 100% physically. Parrish and the team had dedicated the season to their classmate Ari Arteaga who had died the year before and now focused their emotion on "Finishing the Job, for Ari"
The emotion was real and obvious after the DB win. With a strong alumni backing, 4 years of being the bridesmaid instead of the bride leading up to it, and revenge from 2014 on the mind, the Explorers felt this was their time. They sent a huge contingent of fans up to Daytona with the expectation of a championship. And while I once again doubted - particularly in the third quarter after Quinn's fumble on the kickoff - I knew this team wouldn't quit. There was too much emotion there. They didn't lay down, the coaches made the adjustments to get McSween the ball in the air and allow Moody to scramble. They tried to get Parrish open in the flats and eventually it worked. Stuck Price right in the middle to jam up the box a bit more. And a gutsy call going for 2, especially given what happened last year o the last play of the game. It was almost fate.
Hats off to the (mostly new) coaching staff, the new president of the school, the motivator Holmes, and the team that just would not quit. I hope that the Arteaga family find some comfort in this championship season dedicated to their son. It was truly the most exciting finish to a state final I have ever seen, for more than one reason.
Congrats on Apopka's incredible season and hard-fought game.
I know it hurts.
We know it better than most.