APOPKA — The third time was not a charm for Steinbrenner.
After consecutive road victories against state powers Sarasota Riverview and Kissimmee Osceola, the Warriors’ dream season came to an end at Apopka (12-1) with a 41-15 defeat in the Class 8A state semifinals at Roger Williams Field on Friday.
Steinbrenner (12-2) was unable to overcome a quick start by the Blue Darters. Jaquan Lowman returned the opening kickoff 65 yards for a touchdown for Apopka. After forcing a Steinbrenner three and out, it was Lowman connecting with Jamarie Jackson on a 90-yard touchdown pass on third and 10 to put Apopka up 14-0 early in the first quarter. Akeem Brown added a 37-yard touchdown for the Darters with just under nine minutes off the clock.
The Warriors answered on the next possession when Haden Carlson (16-of-29, 236 yards) connected with fellow senior Dean Patterson (five receptions, 118 yards) on a slant. Patterson outraced the Apopka secondary on the 86-yard score to cut the lead to 21-7.
In the second quarter, the Steinbrenner defense would stiffen and provide excellent field position to start a pair of drives. On the first, Steinbrenner went for it on fourth and goal from the 3-yard line and was turned back by the tough Apopka defensive front. On its next drive, Steinbrenner advanced to the 14 before back-to-back sacks resulted in a 20-yard loss and another turnover after going for it on fourth down.
The Darters squashed any hope of a comeback as Lowman scored on runs of 17 and 2 yards to increase the Apopka lead to 34-7 at the half.
“This team wasn’t going to stop fighting. That’s not in their character. They are true warriors. Apopka is a heck of a team. They have a great chance to win the state championship,” said Steinbrenner coach Andres Perez.
After a scoreless third quarter, Carlson ended his prolific career by connecting with Patterson once again on a 3-yard score. The Darters scored on a late interception for the final margin.
While the Warriors have several well-known stars — seniors Carlson, Patterson, Aidan Bitter, Jose Bautista, Greyson Linnell, Matt Adcock, Kaleb Moorer, and juniors Deon Silas and Matt Durrance — there are many great stories that define the Steinbrenner season.
“I think of a guy like Louis Rivera. He could barely do a pushup when he came to us," Perez said. “Now he’s the starting center on a state semifinal team. It warms your heart to see guys like that that worked their tails off and it pays off.”
And despite the loss, Perez was proud of his players and fans and the best season in school history.
“You can’t say enough about this group of guys, 2-7, 6-5 and now 12-2 and making it to the state semis as a senior group," he said. "The leadership was outstanding. Our kids were unbelievable. They worked their tails off for years. Between the parents, band, cheerleaders, the community support, I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this program.”