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SEFFNER — The crunching hit that saved Armwood’s season Friday night came courtesy of an unlikely hero.
On a stout Hawks defense rich with star upperclassmen, it was sophomore defensive back Kyle Gibson who lowered his helmet into Gainesville quarterback Mark Cato and pried hope loose late in the Hawks’ Class 6A region final against the Hurricanes at Lyle Flagg Field.
It was Gibson’s forced fumble with 4:39 left in the game — which came one play after Gainesville had seemingly snagged victory by stopping Armwood on fourth down — that gave the Hawks one more possession and ultimately a 17-14 comeback win.
“The coaches were all telling us we needed to make a big play,” Gibson said. “It was crunch time.”
Three plays after senior linebacker Keionne Baines recovered the fumble, Hawks quarterback Alvin Bailey found Wade Edwards wide open in the end zone to give Armwood its first lead on a 13-yard pass with 3:46 left.
For the Hawks (13-0), who are one win from a return trip up Interstate 4 to the state title game, it completed a run of 14 unanswered points to end the game.
“A win like this helps us,” Baines said. “We’re not used to being down. We had our backs against the wall. We had to put up or shut up. We weren’t ready to go home.”
It was Armwood’s second scare in three weeks; the Hawks needed a fourth-quarter comeback against Lakewood Ranch two weeks ago.
“I’m tired of close games,” coach Sean Callahan said. “I’m ready to go back to beating people by 30, 40 points. It’s getting a little nerve-wracking, but it was good football.”
Gainesville (10-3) held a 14-3 halftime lead thanks to a first-quarter punt block that was returned for a touchdown and a five-play, 55-yard touchdown drive just before the half.
Hawks tailback Matt Jones, a University of Florida commit, was held to 13 yards rushing on 10 carries, but was on the receiving end of a 43-yard touchdown pass that began Armwood’s comeback.
The Hurricanes stacked the box, forcing Bailey — who was filling in for injured quarterback Darryl Richardson — to beat them with his arm. The junior did his part, throwing for a career-high 192 yards and two touchdowns on 14-for-22 passing.
“The playbook with Alvin Bailey is that big,” said Callahan, an inch between his thumb and index finger. “The playbook for (last year’s starter) Josh Grady and Darryl Richardson is a lot bigger. We really did the best we can with what we’ve got.”