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LARGO — It was all there for Largo, everything it wanted, everything it craved. The opportunity to unseat Armwood, to hasten the Hawks’ decline, to shift the balance of power in a 6A classification long ruled by coach Sean Callahan and his loyal foot soldiers.
Instead, soaring Largo and plummeting Armwood swapped roles.
The Hawks grounded the Packers, doing just enough to pull out a 10-6 victory that reminded all those dressed in Largo blue and gold Friday night — from fans to players — that the region and the path to the state high school title game still goes through Armwood, same as it always has.
“We were about as confident as we’ve ever been about our chances,” Packers coach Rick Rodriguez said. “But for some reason we were just snakebitten. We couldn’t hold on to the football.”
Inside a solemn locker room, Largo players and coaches processed that reality, and the attendant consequences of the loss. The Packers came into Friday’s game 10-0 and had won each of their past nine games by 21 points or more. The Hawks had stumbled to an uncharacteristic 7-3 record and were in danger of losing in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
But Armwood’s defense reverted to its championship form, forcing seven turnovers. It started on the opening kickoff when Largo’s Derrick Doss fumbled and the Hawks recovered.
Armwood converted that into points as Nick Feely hit a 37-yard field goal.
The Packers moved the ball well on their next possession as quarterback Juwan Brown hit Raheem Harvey on 46-yard completion. But the drive stalled and a field-goal attempt was blocked.
More frustration set in the next time Largo had the ball as Brown threw his first interception of the season.
It got worse. Early in the second quarter, the Packers’ Reggie Moore fumbled after a reception. The Hawks’ Jordan Griffin picked it up and returned it 17 yards to make it 10-0.
“The ball was just sitting there right in front of me,” Griffin said. “I saw it, and I was fortunate enough to get in the end zone. The coaches all week talked about creating turnovers. We knew we had to because defense wins championships.”
Still, Largo stayed in the game by blocking a punt late in the second quarter deep inside Armwood territory. But the Packers’ best chance of scoring in the first half ended when running back Jarvis Stewart fumbled and the Hawks recovered in the end zone.
Trailing 10-0 at halftime, Largo had trouble sustaining drives as the turnovers continued. Brown was picked off twice more, and there were two more fumbles.
But the Packers made it a game in the fourth quarter when Moore returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown. The extra point failed. Largo then had a chance for a go-ahead drive after recovering an onside kick.
But on fourth and 29, Brown threw a pass to Reggie Campbell that came up 2 yards short of a first down. The Packers had one more chance in the final minute of regulation, but a hook-and-ladder play was botched when Doss fumbled on a lateral from Campbell. The Hawks recovered.
It was a tough loss for the Packers, who had a strong group of seniors that had played together since youth league.
“I feel bad for those guys over there,” Callahan said. “Largo has a great team, and they have a lot of guys that have been together forever. If I wasn’t playing in this game, I’d be rooting for those guys.
“But my guys showed a lot of heart and did what they needed to win.”