TAMPA — The Armwood Hawks have been forced to tweak their modus operandi. The Seffner juggernaut that once subsisted on fleetness and ferocity now is surviving on fumes and fortitude.
Somehow, it has sputtered its way into the postseason’s third round.
Five weeks after being gutted by rangy Hillsborough quarterback Dwayne Lawson, the Hawks’ makeshift defense forced two early turnovers, bottled up Lawson and got just enough offensive support from hobbling senior quarterback Alvin Bailey.
The result: a 9-7 victory in the Class 6A region semifinals on a chilly night at Chelo Huerta Stadium. Armwood (9-3) travels to No. 1-ranked Gainesville next week.
“I really think with the (Florida High School Athletic Association) investigation and everything, I can’t even believe that we’re still here, I really can’t,” said coach Sean Callahan, referring to the high-profile probe that cost Armwood its 2011 state title. “They played hard. Our kids play hard.”
Lawson, who totaled 241 yards in a 3-0 Terriers’ victory on Oct. 18, managed 29 yards on 18 carries and was sacked five times. He ran for 8 yards on third and 10 from his own 45 on the Terriers’ final possession, but was stuffed for a yard on fourth down.
By that point, Armwood’s defense had lost senior middle linebacker Marcus Jacobs (ankle). Defensive lineman Zeric Coleman (ankle) also was hobbling, and leading tackler Jordan Griffin was having his injured hands examined by trainers.
“They played great,” said defensive coordinator Matt Thompson, whose unit did not allow Hillsborough to get inside its 30 after a second-quarter Terrier TD. “Above and beyond what we expected this year.”
Before Thompson could begin employing his strategy of putting two spies on Lawson, the Terriers (9-2) essentially had handed Armwood nine points. Kyle Gibson’s pick of Lawson on the game’s second play from scrimmage set up Nick Feely’s 31-yard field goal.
Hillsborough fumbled the ensuing kickoff, setting up Bailey’s 39-yard TD pass over the middle to Darryl Richardson the following play. Feely’s PAT missed.
“Their kids played hard, but it was an issue of self-destruction,” Terriers coach Earl Garcia said.
“We spotted them nine, and it’s hard to come back. They may be a team of destiny. They’ve (collected 10) turnovers in the last eight quarters. That’s pretty dang good numbers right there.”
Armwood never moved inside Hillsborough’s 20 the rest of the game. Bailey, whom Callahan said is only about “80 to 85 percent” because of an excruciating turf toe, totaled 127 yards.
“I’m good, man; I’m ready to go for next week,” Bailey said. “I don’t remember the last time somebody beat us twice in a season, so we were just going to come out here and handle business. We weren’t going to lose.”