TAMPA — The last time Armwood shut out Plant, the Hawks went on to win a state title.
Take away the fact that Hillsborough County’s top two programs no longer share a classification. Whenever they meet, the winner seems to propel deep into the postseason.
Case in point, the past two meetings heading into Friday’s game were won by the Panthers on their way to back-to-back state championships.
So if Armwood’s convincing 17-0 victory over its archrival Friday is any indication, the Hawks might have plenty to play for come December.
“If we had lost, it would have been heartwrenching,” Armwood quarterback Josh Grady said. “But winning this game, it just propels us into our district games and into the playoffs.”
The Hawks (4-0) held Plant to 69 yards total offense, handing the Panthers their first shutout in nearly six years — Armwood blanked Plant 49-0 on Oct. 29, 2004.
“We thought our defense was good enough to shut them out,” Hawks coach Sean Callahan said. “They’re a good football team, but we’re very good defensively.”
Hawks sophomore safety Leon McQuay picked off Plant quarterback Phillip Ely three times — and after Panthers five-star recruit running back James Wilder Jr. left the game with a left ankle injury in the second quarter, Plant was overmatched.
Senior fullback Kyle Wilcox, who tallied 109 yards total offense, gave Armwood a 7-0 first-quarter lead when he took a quick handoff 25 yards through the heart of the Plant defense on a third-and-2 play.
But perhaps the biggest play came midway through the second quarter, when Wilder was injured, needing assistance to limp off the field. The air quickly went out of Dad’s Stadium, and on the next play a McQuay interception set up Grady’s 24-yard touchdown pass to
Ronnie Thomas to give Armwood a 14-0 halftime lead.
Plant (3-2) wasn’t the same without Wilder and his punishing running style. The Panthers got past their own 41-yard line just once — on an Armwood fumble in its own territory — and managed just two nonpenalty first downs in the second half. Meanwhile, the Hawks were able to sustain drives, twice extending drives on fourth-and-long conversions in Plant’s end.
“Going into the game we knew we could handle them on both sides of the ball,” Grady said. “Our defense took James Wilder out of the picture. Once he was out of the game, their offense wasn’t moving.”
Wilder (eight rushes, 23 yards) twice tried to come back, but Plant coach Robert Weiner made the Florida State commit take his pads off. The Panthers were also without offensive tackle Tony Posada, who had a medial collateral ligament sprain.
“I’m gonna be icing my foot,” Grady said of the ride home. “I’m gonna be freezing, but it’s gonna be a party.”