TAMPA — Armwood finished Day 1 of the USF Sling N Shoot 7-on-7 tournament a perfect 5-0. But Sunday morning when they returned to the field to finish pool play, the Hawks found themselves in a little bit of trouble.
It was a close game with St. Petersburg Catholic, but the Hawks got a big defensive stop at the end to slip by. Seven hours later, that same Armwood team posed for pictures with the tournament bracket it had battled through, celebrating not just a 20-13 win against East Lake in the championship game, but, quarterback Noah Johnson said, the perseverance it took to get there.
“That’s what sparks our season. Our defense is always coming up with clutch plays,” Johnson said. “We do our job, and that’s all you can ask for right there.”
Armwood, which won all 12 games it played during the weekend, took an early lead against the Eagles in the final game on a Cordell Pimienta leaping touchdown grab in the corner of the endzone. The Eagles answered with a score of their own from Zack Jarman to tie the score at six.
Armwood’s Trevor Laurent and East Lake’s Bryce Miller each scored to tie things once again at 13, but Pimienta came up with a huge reception for the Hawks on their next drive, which was then capped by a Dennis Harris winning touchdown grab.
Behind a receiving core full of veterans and emerging underclassmen, East Lake took home a runnerup finish.
Surprisingly for the East Lake, it wasn’t George Campbell who led the Eagles' air attack Sunday. Instead, rising sophomore Miller was quarterback Jake Hudson’s favorite target.
“George attracts so much attention to him, so all the safeties, corners and outside linebackers all flow to him and that leaves Bryce wide open,” Hudson said. “He played his butt off; that was the best I’ve ever seen out of him so far.”
Miller reeled in three passes in the Eagles' second-round win over St. Petersburg Catholic, with two of those grabs going for touchdowns.
The later the tournament got, the hotter Miller seemed to get. He caught two touchdowns in East Lake’s semifinal win over Battle of the Bay champion Alonso. This performance included two touchdowns, one with less than two minutes to play that would go on to be the winning score.
Miller continued his hot day into the final where he caught two passes, one of which went for a touchdown.
“It’s big experience for me; getting to play with top players is great,” Miller said.
For the Eagles, however, this performance is still one to grow from.
“Yeah it stinks to lose, but Armwood’s a great team, one of the best out there and to know that we stuck with them the whole time and came in second out of 52 teams is a great accomplishment,” Hudson said. “The biggest thing we did was grow as a team. The best part is we just got better and better each game.”
Fifty-four squads participated in the Sling & Shoot, but three Tampa Bay teams — Alonso, Armwood and East Lake — made up the final four, along with Orlando Oak Ridge.
Alonso, which won the Battle of the Bay in June, finished 5-2 in pool play but cruised Sunday afternoon due in large part to quarterback Chris Oladokun’s accuracy.
“It’s a small letdown. We knew we had the talent to take it all the way, even with 52, teams,” Oladokun said. “But at the end of the day, the final four isn’t too bad.”