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September 18, 2008
Apopka (Fla.) High coach Rick Darlington feels like he just watched "Friday the 13th" over and over.
He spent hours over the weekend pausing and rewinding game film of Batesville (Miss.) South Panola in preparation for the teams' ESPNU-televised matchup Friday in Batesville.
"We might be the campers at Camp Crystal Lake, and they might be Jason," Darlington joked, referring to the setting and main character of the horror movie.
South Panola (3-0) - ranked 16th in the RivalsHigh 100 - has won five consecutive state championships, is on a 78-game winning streak and hasn't lost a game since Dec. 6, 2002. The Blue Darters (2-0), located in an Orlando suburb and ranked No. 14 in the RivalsHigh 100, are no slouch either, though. Apopka lost in the state Class 6A semifinals last season, but it has made the playoffs every season since 2000 and is ranked No. 1 in the state's largest classification.
"You can tell right off the bat they are the typical team you hear about in Florida, with all that speed and stuff they've got," South Panola coach Lance Pogue said. "They are really different from anyone we've seen here in Mississippi, so we've got a major challenge, but it's one we are excited about."
Darlington hasn't mentioned South Panola's long winning streak to his players. And he doesn't talk about what scares him most – that the Tigers are much bigger than the Blue Darters, especially on both lines – because he doesn't want to cause a lack of confidence.
Apopka, which will bring 34 players on the team's first out-of-state trip since 1988, has an advantage in that it uses an offensive scheme that South Panola hasn't seen. The Darters run a single-wing offense that was popular in the 1940s but hasn't been used much since. It involves a lot of deception, and the offense led the way to a 57-21 rout of Orlando Freedom last week.
"It's kind of unconventional, so we are having to do a little bit more time in preparation just because we aren't as familiar with their style of play," Pogue said. "It requires you to study up, and it's designed to get you to be overaggressive – and then they hit you where you (were)."
Apopka's offense is triggered by quarterback Jeremy Gallon, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound speedster who also plays running back and has committed to Michigan as a receiver. South Panola must make sure it is aware of Gallon because if he gets into an open space, it's likely he will find the end zone. He has been clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40 and has rushed for 272 yards and two touchdowns on 42 carries in two games.
Darlington just hopes the Tigers don't get to Gallon in the backfield. He estimates his offensive line is at least 50 pounds lighter per man than South Panola's defensive line.
"We are very small, so we have to somehow keep from getting mangled up front," said Darlington, who compares South Panola to perennial power Orlando Edgewater - the only team to beat the Darters in the 2007 regular season. "Then, they are really good on defense. They don't give up a lot of points, so we are going to have to find some way to move the ball on them a little bit."
South Panola's defense has allowed opponents just eight points in three games. The group is led by seniors David Conner (5-9/185), a safety/outside linebacker who has committed to Auburn, and Marvin Burdette (5-9, 225), a middle linebacker.
South Panola also boasts a potent offense with junior running back Nicholas Parker, a slasher with breakaway speed, and senior quarterback David Renfroe (6-3/210), who is 18-0 in two seasons as a starter and has committed to Ole Miss for baseball.
The Tigers earned the first 75 wins of their streak mainly on the ground, but Renfroe gives them a passing attack that keeps opponents on their toes. He has thrown for 479 yards and five touchdowns this season, while the ground game has amassed 770 yards.
Apopka's 4-3 defense features senior linebacker Larvez Mars (5-11/210), who has 40 tackles in two games, and senior defensive back Caleb Nelson (6-2/180), who also plays quarterback and wide receiver. Mars is the No. 8 inside linebacker nationally.
"It's going to be two unique contrasts, and it will be interesting to see which one plays out," said Pogue, who expects South Panola's 10,000-seat stadium to be filled.
Darlington hopes the nightmares he's had while watching film end when the game begins.
"I hope they don't beat us unconscious," Darlington said. "It's going to be a tough game without a doubt."