This fall, we’ll be providing more coverage of Jacksonville area teams thanks to our partnership with the NFHS Network. Click here for more information about our expanded coverage.
Friday night at 7 p.m. from St. Johns County, we’ll have ‘live’ video coverage of Apopka at Bartram Trail. Join Corey Davis & Andre Ellis for this match-up of state-ranked teams. The visiting Class 8A Blue Darters are ranked fourth in the AP state football rankings while the Bears are ranked 6th in 7A. WATCH IT LIVE HERE.
Apopka Blue Darters
Coach: Rick Darlington
Key Players: Cornelius Williams (Sr., RB), Anthony Fieldings (Jr., CB), Jason Darlington (Jr., QB), Akeem Brown (Jr., WR), Fred Young (Jr., WR/LB)
Last week: Defeated Ocoee 47-0
Outlook: The Blue Darters have had their share of success against North Florida teams over the years whether its the regular season or the playoffs, 5-1 all-time against the area. Apopka has won four straight including wins in 2017 against Mandarin 55-12 in the regular season, in 2014 against First Coast 64-48 in third round of the playoffs, in 2013 against First Coast 42-20 in the third round of the playoffs and in 2012 against Fletcher 52-19 in the third round of the playoffs. The last time an area team beat Apopka was Sandalwood in 2006 when the Saints upset the Darters 20-18 in the second round of the playoffs, two years after the Saints were knocked out in the second round by the Darters 31-21 in 2004. Darlington has guided the Darters to three state titles (2001, 2012, 2014) as well as a state runner finish in 2013 in his time and is coming off a second round loss to Winter Park last season. Part of the reason for the success of the Darters over the years is their single wing offense they have perfected causing nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators. Last week the Darters, ranked No. 2 in the Orlando Sentinel Area Poll, cruised over Ocoee 47-0 behind 170 yards on 28 carries, surprisingly throwing for a pair of touchdowns, while the defense held Ocoee to 61 total yards. Williams returned the opening kick back 89 yards for the first score of the season in addition to rushing for two touchdown (4, 26) and catching two passes for 26 yards. Fieldings picked off an Ocoee pass in the end zone and returned it 100 yards for a score late in the game. Darlington threw a pair of touchdown passes to Brown and Young, something the Darters do well with catching teams loading the box and not respecting the pass.
Bartram Trail Bears
Coach: Darrell Sutherland
Key Players: Devin Ellison (Sr., RB), Gunnar Hitzeman (Sr., WR), Griffin Helm (Sr., WR), Johnny Burkett (Sr., OL), Harry Bowker (Sr., DB/P), Robby Love (Sr., OL), Chase Ruskin (Sr., LB), Nick Macabee (Jr., OL), Tre’Vez Johnson (Jr., DB), Aaron Jones (So., RB)
Newcomers: Chad Dodson (Jr., QB), Zach Rhodes (Jr., WR), Colin McKee (Sr., OL), Spencer Hudson (Sr., OL), Andrew Bonday (Sr., DL), Kaleo Fowler (Sr., LB), Craig Sinclair (Jr., DB), Connor Easterling (Sr., DL), Ralph Hamilton (Jr., LB), Jordan Webster (Sr., LB), Brandon Vespi (Sr., LB), Eric Weatherly (Fr., ATH), William Greig (Jr., K)
Outlook: After years of knocking on the door, Bartram Trail finally was able to get to the promise land, Orlando and compete for a state title. Now they have finally got there the goal doesn’t change of bringing home the first trophy back. It will be extremely difficult to duplicate the success but its certainly not out of the equation. It won’t be easy replacing most of an offense that scored 617 points last year and also most of a team that saw 12 guys move on to college, including six go Division I. For the first time in several years, Sutherland will look to just one guy to run his speed triple option offense in Dodson, who despite just throwing four passes last year, already has an offer from Akron. Dodson will have several weapons to choose from in speedy backs Ellison (1261 yards, 17 TD on 150 carries) and Jones (359 yards, 3 TD on 55 carries) as well as big time receivers Hitzeman (33 catches for 617 yards, 5 TD) and Helm (46 catches for 658 yards, 6 TD). The defense is still in good shape with the return of Bowker (41 tackles, 4 INT) and Ruskin (73 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 sacks, INT) as well as Love.
Part of the reason for the huge turnaround and success last season was the teams closeness and bonding and willing to set aside personal goals for team goals. Sutherland is hoping some of that rubs off on this team and says it already has. During his 17 year tenure, the Bears have made the playoffs 15 times including three straight, look for it to extend to four straight years. Dodson played well in the season opening 35-12 win over Brunswick finishing 16 of 26 for 240 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. While veterans Ellison, Helm and Hitzeman all were their usual selves, young guys Jones and Weatherly both showed off their skills and how they will be used in the offense as well. Sutherland annually has his team ready for the playoffs with such a demanding schedule over the years including regular season games against Mainland, Cocoa, Cartersville (GA) and this week against state power Apopka, in the first meeting between the two state powers.