SEFFNER — At practice this week, Armwood’s top receiver was loosening up his throwing arm and running plays from under center. The strong-armed 6-foot-5 quarterback was running routes. And the team’s best defensive player also jumped in for a few plays at receiver.
Following its first shutout loss since 2003, Armwood was either undergoing an overhaul or making a few tweaks heading into its annual showdown with Plant.
These are unusual times for Armwood, which has rarely been challenged by local teams other than Plant in the past decade. But after their season-long offensive malaise culminated with a 3-0 defeat at Hillsborough last week, the Hawks are now contemplating the sort of in-season changes they usually force their opponents to make.
“We’re doing some different things this week and trying to get their attention,” coach Sean Callahan said. “The maturation process has been slow, but we’re trying to work through it.”
Plant will certainly be unsympathetic to those struggles given the trouble the Hawks have traditionally caused for its offense: Armwood has shut out the Panthers in consecutive years.
So with the Hawks (6-2) facing three regular-season losses for the first time since 2002 — when many of the players were starting elementary school — Callahan and his staff have been figuring out ways to revive their offense.
That includes flirting with moving receiver Alvin Bailey, who leads Armwood with 35 catches, 590 yards and 10 touchdowns, back to quarterback, where he starred in leading the Hawks to an undefeated season and the 6A state championship in 2011.
Other potential moves: Richardson, who has thrown for 1,040 yards, 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions, spent lots of time working at receiver. In the same practice, Leon McQuay III, who rarely spends time on offense because he is one of the nation’s top defensive backs, was shuffling between defensive drills and offensive sessions — taking pitches and running routes.
“This is that time of the year where we’re trying to give (Bailey) more (repetitions at quarterback),” Callahan said. “And it forces (Plant’s) hand a little bit, makes them have to defend two different styles of quarterback.”
While the Hawks’ offense probably won’t be as bad as against Hillsborough, their defense is still sturdy enough to cause problems for Plant (6-1).
Since Robert Weiner took over as Plant coach in 2004, Armwood has won seven of the 10 matchups (on the field), and the Panthers have scored more than 17 points only once — a 38-20 victory in 2006.
Six times over that span, Plant has been held scoreless or scored no more than a touchdown.
Given that sort of history and hours of film study this week, Weiner believes claims of Armwood’s impending demise are greatly exaggerated.
“If they’ve taken a step, that’s a step down from awesome or the best team in the country,” Weiner said. “They’ve just taken a step down to really amazing.”
The Panthers are finally hitting their stride on offense, with senior running back Wesley Bullock totaling more than 100 yards of offense in the past three games, including 235 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s victory over Alonso.
Plant also got back senior quarterback Aaron Banks, who missed two games with a shoulder injury to his non-throwing arm before returning last week. Banks completed 13-of-17 passes for 120 yards and ran for a touchdown, looking much better to his coach on film Saturday than during the game.
“I felt much better about him the morning after,” Weiner said. “And he’s really kept our ship afloat when things aren’t going well.”
Of course, neither team has much experience with regular-season troubles. For roughly a decade, Armwood vs. Plant has been the annual standard by which these programs have measured themselves.
Neither team has come into this game off a loss during that time, adding another layer of intrigue to Friday's game.
Going back to its first state title in 2004, Armwood has rarely had a chance to make up for its eight losses (not including forfeits) and never lost consecutive games. That’s usually because a) obviously, the Hawks rarely lose and b) half of those defeats came in the postseason.
But the Hawks have always rebounded in a big way when they’ve had the chance. The game after a defeat, they’ve beaten their opponents — King in 2009, Newsome in 2008, Middleton in 2006, Durant in 2005 — by a combined score of 179-16.
It goes without saying that none of those teams was as formidable as Plant.
Said McQuay: “That’s more a reason to go harder.”
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jdanderson.