Who’s No. 1? Apopka defeated Miami Jackson 29-15 at home in Week 5 to improve to 5-0, but DeLand stole the spotlight by scoring a 19-0 shutout of reigning Class 6A state champ Seminole to join the Blue Darters as one of four area Class 6A teams without a loss.
The 5-0 Bulldogs move into homecoming week with a presumably easy game against a winless Pine Ridge team.
DeLand recorded its third shutout while holding Seminole’s offense at bay. It was a stark contrast to DeLand’s earlier 49-48 victory against Seabreeze. Still, it was the Bulldogs’ ground game that knocked around a strong Seminole defense.
Shontrelle Johnson, De'Ante "Pop" Saunders and Achim Johnson combined for better than 300 rushing yards. Johnson and Saunders each scored. Both running backs have rushed for more than 600 yards this season, and Friday’s matchup with Pine Ridge should allow them to close in on the 1,000-yard plateau.
Bolstering the offense is Nick Ciciarelli, a senior who has transitioned from the fullback spot to a role as the signal-caller. With the graduation of Justin Roberts, DeLand needed to fill the hole, and Ciciarelli has been better than some expected given his limited experience.
Against Seabreeze and Spruce Creek, Ciciarelli completed a combined 11-of-17 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. He should have a chance to show what he can do this Friday against Pine Ridge. The passing game adds an important dimension that should serve DeLand well in the postseason, assuming they earn a berth. The key to the passing game is Drammon Grady, a receiver who has three touchdown catches this season.
Still, it’s the tandem of runners who gain the most attention. At their current pace, Johnson and Saunders each should reach 1,500 rushing yards this season. That says a lot for the Bulldogs’ defense, which received the praise of coach Kevin Pettis. The second-year coach noted during the 2008 season that his offensive linemen were young. Apparently, they’ve matured.
Orlando Sentinel writer Buddy Collings gave them a shoutout in his game story. Collings noted that linemen Julian Proctor, Tim Sandersfield, Trey Pettis, Christian Efird and Jared Wilkin deserve much praise for their work. Of course, Pettis, a former offensive lineman himself, is doubly proud of one lineman, junior center Trey, who is the coach’s son and a top college recruit. Al Manning, R.J. Simpson and Steve Markus coach the offensive line.
What’s most impressive about this DeLand team is its meteoric rise to the top, which comes just two seasons after lots of folks in this football-crazy city wanted to forget about the game. In 2007, DeLand got off to a rough start, and the struggles snowballed. Under Coach Larry Candeto, the Bulldogs finished 0-10, the team’s first winless season since 1971.
In came Pettis, who coached the Bulldogs to a 5-5 regular season in 2008. Deland earned a playoff berth as the District 2 runner-up, but its playoff pairing with Sanford Seminole spelled doom. Seminole defeated the Bulldogs for the second time during the season on its way to the state championship.
Now DeLand holds a spot high in the state’s AP rankings. The Bulldogs sit eighth behind the Blue Darters and another fellow Central Florida team, Dr. Phillips. Dr. Phillips had a bye week in Week 5 and remains unbeaten at 5-0. That leaves some wondering whether the Bulldogs might play DP in the postseason.
DeLand is in Region 1, and DP is in Region 2. Thus, the two teams will not meet unless it is on Dec. 4 in the regional finals. That might be jumping ahead a bit, but it’s an exciting jump. After all, Pettis coached three years at Dr. Phillips before making the move to DeLand. Could this be the year DeLand makes it over the hump? DeLand has been in the playoffs seven times since 1980, but the team has lost five times in the first round and twice in the second round. Even the 1995 team, which went 10-0 during the regular season under coach Howie DeCristofaro, lost in the first round.
Before the Bulldogs set their sights on the postseason, however, they have some important regular-season work ahead. DeLand hosts Deltona on Oct. 23 and then plays back-to-back games against Lake Brantley and Mainland to finish off the regular season. Mainland has the potential to win that game and steal the District 6A-2 championship. That scenario would force DeLand to head to the road for the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.
Other scenarios play out if DeLand loses to Deltona, a district rival that appears to improve with each week. The Bulldogs also need to stay grounded. After all, Seminole isn’t the team it was a season ago. The Sanford school lost its season opener to Oviedo, which later lost to Lake Brantley.
Seabreeze, meanwhile, has two losses this season, including one at the hands of Lake Brantley. In fact, while the Mainland game has more playoff implications, it might be DeLand’s matchup with Lake Brantley that provides the most insight. The Patriots (4-1) are riding a four-game win streak after suffering a 31-14 loss to Apopka in Week 1. Lake Brantley, though, dealt with a flu outbreak that interrupted the team’s practice schedule prior to the start of the season. That might have affected the Patriots’ play during the first few weeks of the season.
As for Mainland, Week 5 featured a big rebound. After losing 21-20 to Seminole in Week 4, Mainland defeated New Smyrna Beach 35-7. The Bucs (3-2) hit on all cylinders. Quinn Bell threw for three touchdowns, including a 22-yard strike to Telvin Hooks, who played at New Smyrna Beach before he transferred in the offseason to Mainland. Running back Marlin Lane added 155 rushing yards and a 49-yard touchdown run for Mainland. The Bucs still earned some votes in the state’s AP poll, but it wasn’t enough to boost Mainland into the Top 10 in the team’s first year at the Class 6A level. Folks should remember that one of Mainland’s losses was to Miami Central, currently considered one of the nation’s best teams.
Apopka’s win again featured junior running back Tom Smith. He topped 100 yards rushing with a trio of touchdowns. Quarterback Keon Brooks and running back Quay Barnes also had success running the ball for Apopka, which topped 300 yards on the ground. Winter Park, meanwhile, slammed Cypress Creek 46-0. The Wildcats scored four times on the ground, including on 36- and 28-yard runs by Zee Ware, who finished with more than 100 rushing yards. The team improved to 5-0, but it’s still not on the radar statewide. Winter Park earned no votes in the state’s AP poll for Oct. 5.
DeLand, Apopka, Lake Brantley, Oviedo and Mainland each have the potential for a deep playoff run, but Dr. Phillips remains the area’s top team despite anything the state rankings or the Orlando Sentinel’s Top 10 might suggest. DP has three shutout wins in four games, and two of the wins were against Edgewater and Osceola. The Panthers play at Boone this Friday with an opportunity to improve to 5-0.
If that happens, there’s a good chance that DP finishes the regular season 10-0. The team’s upcoming opponents include Evans, Oak Ridge, Gateway, Freedom and West Orange. All of those games give DP’s offense a chance to find some rhythm. The offense is the one area where the Panthers haven’t quite made their mark. With a new quarterback taking the snaps, the team has struggled to take advantage of its two star receivers and a pair of talented running backs capable of catching passes out of the backfield. Expect DP to solidify its passing game in the coming weeks and then make a splash in the postseason.