SEFFNER — For a five-star junior on a nationally ranked team playing for its fourth on-the-field state championship since 2003, the confession is hard to make.
“It’s hard to say that, but they are good,” Armwood defensive end Byron Cowart said. “I gotta give it to them.”
“Them” is Miami Central’s mighty offensive line, a star-studded group of seniors. Whether Cowart and the Hawks’ standout defensive line can penetrate them will likely decide today’s Class 6A state championship.
“You most definitely have to win the line of scrimmage,” Rockets coach Roland Smith said.
Smith likes his chances there.
All five starters on the offensive line weigh at least 265 pounds and are all considered at least two-star college prospects.
Four have committed to Division I colleges — tackles Reginald Bain (Florida Atlantic) and Under Armour All-American Trevor Darling (Miami), guard Michael Smith (USF) and center Raul Diaz (Tulane). The fifth starter, guard Joshua Addison, holds an offer from Western Kentucky.
Those massive bodies have paved the way for two 1,700-yard rushers and an offense averaging 44 points per game — including 49 in the playoffs.
“We think we have the best front line, not in the state but in the nation,” Roland Smith said. “We thrive on that.”
Armwood, as usual, thrives on its defense, and the defense relies on its linemen.
The dominance of Cowart, Hyriam Frederick and Jeremy Ware have helped the Hawks shut out four opponents, including Springstead two weeks ago in the region final. Bartram Trail needed three overtimes to rack up only 351 yards — 46 below its season average.
“Our defensive line is the strength of our team right now,” Armwood coach Sean Callahan said.
Cowart is the unit’s headliner. Rivals’ No. 4 overall recruit for the class of 2015 has a team-high 13 sacks to go with 10 quarterback hurries and 72 tackles.
Frederick has quietly had a productive season on the other edge. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound senior tallied six of his team-high 24 tackles for a loss in the playoffs. He’s also racked up eight sacks and 79 total tackles this fall.
“Those two ends, they look like they should be at the collegiate level,” Roland Smith said.
Ware is the forgotten lineman in the middle. The 6-foot-3, 233-pound junior has recorded two safeties and five of his team’s 50 sacks. He had a season-high 10 tackles last week to help his defense corral Bartram Trail.
“He usually doesn’t get as much recognition as Byron and Hyriam, but he does his job week to week and makes plays also,” linebacker Jordan Griffin said.
Armwood’s front line regularly commands double teams, freeing up linebackers like Griffin (150 tackles) and Justin Manning (92) to attack ball carriers.
But Ware and his teammates haven’t faced a line like Miami Central’s.
Callahan said he always tries to be honest with his team, and this week was no different. The Rockets are huge, and the Hawks will have to be very physical and add new wrinkles to try to stop one of the state’s powerhouse offenses.
If they fail, Armwood could be heading for its third runnerup finish since 2005.
“We’re playing a better team, and that’s the reality,” Callahan said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t win the game.”
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.