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TAMPA — Moments after one of the most seismic and surreal of his 213 career triumphs, 60-year-old Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia did what his defense refused to do for 48 minutes Thursday against Armwood.
“We talked about it since January, about beating these guys,” said Garcia, his voice quivering as grandson Earl IV tugged at his trouser leg.
“We talked about re-establishing Hillsborough back on top, because we’ve been second, third, fourth, fifth for about as long as I can remember.”
Today, they are first, courtesy of a stout defense and sophomore quarterback who had the game of his life.
The Terriers’ 3-0 triumph against Armwood on their senior night, combined with Jefferson’s 21-14 upset of Sickles, puts Hillsborough (6-1, 4-1) alone atop the Class 6A, District 8 standings.
Garcia’s squad became the first to shut out the Hawks since Jefferson did it with a 63-0 rout on Sept. 7, 2001. The Terriers are the first county school not named Plant to defeat Armwood since Aug. 26, 2005 — when Garcia’s team edged the Hawks, 21-20, in William Orr’s first game as Hillsborough principal.
Orr is retiring in August.
“We made history tonight, man,” said Terriers two-way speedster Jeremiah Green, who snuffed Armwood’s opening drive of the second half with an interception. “We’ll never forget this game.”
Hillsborough got the only points it would need on the game’s first possession, when senior Chris Sato’s 23-yard field goal capped a 13-play drive.
Prolonging it were three consecutive Armwood personal-foul penalties, including a roughing-the-punter call on fourth and 10.
While the Terriers never found the end zone, they put together three more drives of at least 10 plays to essentially keep Armwood’s offense sidelined and its green defense flustered.
Dwayne Lawson, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, finished with 219 total yards, sustaining drives with quarterback keepers right up the gut of the Hawks defense.
“We came up against a better team tonight,” said Callahan, whose team (6-2, 4-1) still clinches a playoff berth if it defeats King on Nov. 2.
“(Lawson) wasn’t running outside of us, he was running through us. We didn’t have a linebacker in the B-gap. When we did, we did a good job, but there were several times we didn’t play it right.”
Armwood’s best scoring chance ended when senior Nick Feely’s 28-yard field goal sailed wide right, stalling a 14-play first-half drive. The Hawks never moved inside the Terriers’ 20 again.
“We talked about playing regardless of fronts and coverages and who the opponent was, playing with our heart,” Garcia said. “Our kids wanted to win tonight, it was real simple. It wasn’t about us, it was about the kids.”