TAMPA — Like the ghost of district rivalries past, last year’s Armwood-Jefferson outcome haunts Dragon defenders. Their minds easily wander to the fourth game of 2012, when Jefferson led 21-0 before allowing Armwood to score 35 unanswered points and win.
The rematch will kick off tonight at Dr. Sam Horton Stadium, where one team will deliver the first loss of the season to its opponent.
Jefferson coach Jeremy Earle admits that last year’s defensive flop has been used as a motivational tool in the weeks leading up to tonight’s showdown of the unbeaten. But as far as senior linebacker Juwuan Brown is concerned, he and his teammates don’t need to be reminded of that failure.
“We remind ourselves,” he said. “Every time we’re up, we’re like, ‘Remember what happened last year.’ Just stay humble, keep playing hard.”
Armwood has played lights out defensively, allowing just 14 points in its first four games. Then again, the Hawks have yet to face the caliber of offense the Dragons possess — one that has averaged 445 yards per game.
Armwood’s defense is such that giving up any points could spell trouble for Jefferson, which might find itself in a tough spot if forced to rally. That’s why the defense — perhaps the overlooked element of the 2013 Jefferson squad — likely holds the key to the Dragons’ success.
“We probably have one of the best offenses in the state, if not the country,” Jefferson linebackers coach Maurice Jones said. “I tell them every game: Just keep stopping people, give the ball back to the offense, and we’ll be fine.”
Despite winning the first three games for the first time since a 2010 state title run, Jefferson has allowed more than four times the points Armwood has, and in one fewer game.
The Jefferson defense has been through a rebuilding process since 2010. Brown, a USF commit, has stepped up as a leader on the work in progress.
Brown missed four games last season due to a back injury, but still amassed eight sacks in six games. The linebacker, who already has five sacks, wants 20 by the time Jefferson’s 2013 campaign is through.
Jones doesn’t see why Brown can’t achieve that goal. And against Armwood, he added, the very threat of those tackles for loss will be a huge factor for the Dragons defensively.
“When he’s on the field, he commands attention,” Jones said of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Brown. “They’re going to at least put three linemen on him if they see him blitzing or whatnot. That frees up someone else to make a play.”
Brown said everybody “just started thinking too much,” which led to last year’s collapse against Armwood. That, he said, won’t happen again.
Earle said folks are already talking about a potential rematch between Armwood and Jefferson in Round 2 of the playoffs. If that were to come true, it would be Jefferson’s first postseason appearance since it went all the way to the state final.
“To be able to make a run to the playoffs in the state of Florida, you have to be able to play great defense,” Earle said. “The makeup of this football team is right there for that, it’s just a matter of us going out there and taking care of it in this crazy game of football.”
There’s no need to remind Brown just how wild the game can be. After all, last year’s unlikely drubbing at the hands of Armwood still replays in his mind. It’s a memory that soon, he assures, will be replaced by a better one.
“We’ve got this,” Brown said.
Kelly Parsons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @_kellyparsons.