FORT LAUDERDALE – Was it a touchdown?
Or was it an incomplete pass?
Well, for the sake of the Venice High football team and star defensive end Damon Wilson, the play in the second quarter was ruled a touchdown.
And it turned out to be a back-breaker for Apopka High.
On a third-and-9 from their own 13-yard line, Blue Darters quarterback Andrew McClain dropped back to pass. Wilson stormed in from the left side, easily beating right tackle Dyson Hurburt.
Wilson knocked McClain’s attempt in the air and the ball flickered toward the end zone. Having a sense of awareness and using his gifted athletic ability, Wilson caught the football while standing in the end zone.
Nearly immediately, the ball was knocked out of Wilson’s hands. A side official ruled an incomplete pass, but the head official called it a touchdown and did not waver when the ball hit the ground.
So, Damon, did you catch it and was it a touchdown?
“I think I did,” he said. “Everybody else didn’t think I did, but I think I did.”
Like to most watching, the play was a blur to Wilson.
“To be honest, I don’t really know,” he said when asked to describe the play. “It happened really fast. I didn’t think I was going to tip the ball or anything. I didn’t think I was going to catch it. Then a guy came around and knocked it out of my hands.”
Oh, it happened, all right. The touchdown increased Venice’s lead to 21-7 and took the wind out of the Apopka sails.
Venice went on to a 35-7 victory to claim the Class 8A state title, the third in program history and first since 2017.
“It means a lot,” Wilson said. “We’ve worked with these guys since summertime. And to be able to come here and win and blow every team out in the playoffs, it just means a lot.”
A junior, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound chiseled Wilson had a dominating game. He was in on eight tackles, had a half of a sack to tie the school record in a season with 14.5 and recorded two tackles for a loss to go along with his interception for a touchdown, pass breakup and quarterback hit, the latter three occurring on the same play.
He was complimentary of the Blue Darters, but knows they were no match for Venice on this afternoon.
“They were decent competition. They play hard,” Wilson said. “It was a good team, but we played better than them.”
Even facing Apopka’s single-wing offense that was supposed to dazzle the defense, Wilson said it was not difficult figuring out the scheme.
“They ran the same play every time,” he said. “It was not hard.”
Case in point: Apopka compiled 119 total yards, 123 on the ground and minus-4 in the air, and five first downs. Venice forced seven punts.
“Our D-line is fantastic. They get after it,” Venice coach John Peacock said. “We knew they were going to have a tough time running the ball. It’s going to be hard for anybody to run the ball on us.”
Dennis Maffezzoli is the deputy sports editor for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and chief reporter for Sarasota Herald-Tribune and HTpreps covering Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties. Support local journalism by subscribing.