Central Florida's Top Sports Stories of 2013

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As 2013 comes to a close, I rank the top five sports stories from the past year. 

5. Apopka football’s record-breaking offense

The Blue Darters entered 2013 as the defending 8A state champions, but no one could have expected the staggering numbers the Apopka offense put up this year. Star quarterback Zack Darlington was knocked out of the team’s first game in South Carolina with a serious concussion. Darlington had to be airlifted to a nearby hospital and would not play another down for the Darters.

Without a true quarterback, Rick Darlington, who is Zack’s father, took it old school and switched from a spread offense to a single-wing rushing attack. The transformation was not difficult for the Apopka players, who run the single-wing on the freshman and JV teams.

Robert Thomas was one of the primary beneficiaries of the change. Thomas broke the Metro Conference rushing record with 2,371 yards and Apopka set the state single-season scoring record with 756 points.

Apopka came up one win shy of back-to-back state championships, losing to South Dade in the title game.

4. Magic draft Victor Oladipo

Although the Magic ended up with the second overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Pat Williams still believes his lucky ping pong ball farm is working. Magic executives were pleased when Cleveland selected Anthony Bennett first overall, since they were still able to get their man in Indiana’s Victor Oladipo.

In a draft that was blasted for its lack of star-power, the athletic, musically-talented Oladipo has not disappointed. He posted a triple-double against Philadelphia and is currently averaging 12.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 3.7 apg. Oladipo was known for his defensive prowess in college and that aspect of his game has been evident as well. He’s averaging more than one steal per game.

The Magic are still clearly in rebuilding mode, but they seem to have a good foundation in Oladipo.

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3. Nationwide wreck at Daytona

This was one of the scariest moments I’ve ever witnessed in person. Kyle Larson’s car went airborne on the final lap of February’s Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway and crashed into the catch fence. Debris from Larson’s car was hurled into the grandstand injuring more than 30 spectators, some seriously.

After an investigation into why the catch-fence did not do its job properly, NASCAR ordered the crossover gates (where fans can come through the fence for pre-race festivities) to be reinforced with numerous cables. The reinforcements were made at Talladega and Daytona.

With a camera cable also injuring some fans at Charlotte Motor Speedway this year, maybe NASCAR can do a hard hat giveaway at the Daytona 500. Safety first!

2. UCF football’s historic season

We had an idea this was going to be a season unlike any other when UCF won their bowl-ban appeal against the NCAA. I have a better chance of winning arguments with my wife, than colleges do with the NCAA, but George O’Leary and the Knights pulled it off.

UCF’s season was highlighted by eight wins by a touchdown or less, First-time victories over a Big Ten and top-ten ranked team, plus a highlight that will live forever in J.J. Worton’s catch against Temple.

The Knights will be a shoe-in for the top 5 moments of 2014 if they can pull off the biggest upset of the bowl season and take down Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Relive the incredible year with this video put together by the folks at UCF.

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1. Orlando City to MLS

The top story of 2013 goes to Phil Rawlins and the Orlando City Soccer Club turning Orlando into a two-sport town. The Orlando Magic will no longer be the only show in downtown as Orlando City will join Major League Soccer in 2015.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs deserve some credit for their push to secure funding for a new stadium in downtown Orlando, which solidified Orlando City’s bid for MLS.

But outside of Rawlins, the soccer-fans of Central Florida deserve most of the credit. They helped Rawlins prove that pro soccer can be successful in Florida, following two failed forays in Tampa and Miami.  20,000+ fans created one of the most electric atmospheres I’ve ever experienced at the 2013 USL-Pro Championship.

After all the excitement of a public MLS announcement at the Cheyenne Saloon, we’re now left to sit and wait. For all of the Orlando City faithful, hopefully 2014 flies by just as fast as 2013.

I call dibs on the first Kaka jersey.

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Honorable mention:

Jimmie Johnson sweeps Daytona

20k fans watch Orlando City win USL-Pro Title

Francesca Enea, my wife, retires from pro softball and the Kissimmee-based USSSA Pride (hopefully this makes up for my argument comment earlier in the article)