With temperatures expected to remain strikingly subtropical, hundreds of high school football fans in Seffner and South Tampa will stand in line Friday evening to catch one of two major sequels being staged for one night only. Lakeland-Plant and Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer-Armwood are rematches of last season’s semifinals in Class 5A and 4A, respectively. In terms of excitement value, we’re expecting these follow-ups to be far more Godfather II than Grease II, which is to say, a lot closer than their surprisingly one-sided originals. Here’s a sneak preview of both contests.
Dwyer at Armwood
The original: Playing on the road, Armwood spotted Dwyer a 21-point halftime lead, rallied to trim its deficit to six, then succumbed to turnovers in a 41-15 loss. Dwyer two-way beast Matt Elam ran for 179 yards and two TDs, and returned a Josh Grady pick 56 yards for the night’s final score.
At the turnstiles: The contest drew a Blum Stadium crowd of roughly 2,500
The stars: Elam was huge on both sides, spearheading a defense that neutralized Hawks ball carriers Matt Jones and Rayshied Melvin (17 total rushing yards.)
Critics’ rating (on a scale of 1-4 stars): Two stars. After an abysmal first half, the Hawks made it interesting for a while before being thwarted by turnovers.
The sequel: This year, the Panthers come to Lyle Flagg Field, where Armwood hasn’t lost a postseason game since 2002.
Since the original aired: Dwyer won the 5A title a week later, and has remained undefeated against Florida competition since. Its lone defeat: a controversial 26-22 season-opening loss to Glenville, Ohio. … Armwood (13-0, ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 4A) hasn’t lost since its defeat at Dwyer.
Returning stars: Dwyer returns a ton of defensive talent, including rangy DEs Curt Maggitt and Nick O’Leary, grandson of golf legend Jack Nicklaus. QB Jacoby Brissett, who accounted for three TDs in last year’s meeting, also is back. Jones and QB Josh Grady return for Armwood, which enters with a more seasoned offensive line. Defensively, most all of the Hawks playmakers — FS Juice McKinney and LBs Eric Striker, Jake Zilbar and D.J. Hitchman — are alumni of this matchup.
Stars not returning: Five Panthers who started both ways in last year’s game graduated, including Elam, TE/DE Gerald Christian and QB Robert Clark (all of whom are now at Florida). Armwood defensive linemen Man-Man Jackson and Alton Bailey graduated, and WR A.J. King (knee) has been out all season.
What they’re saying: “They don’t have Matt Elam and they don’t have that big tight end (Christian), but they’ve got that same whole defensive line, and I don’t really think they dropped off a whole lot. We’re going to have to play our best game ever and not make mistakes. What we’ve got to hope for is that we’re fast and physical because they have four or five guys who go both ways.” — Armwood coach Sean Callahan
Lakeland at Plant
The original: Heading into last year’s matchup, the story line was straight out of the David vs. Goliath mold. But behind James Wilder Jr.’s performance — his 15-yard Dreadnaught-dragging touchdown run went viral and has nearly 27,000 hits on YouTube — Plant stunned the Dreadnaughts 20-0 at Bryant Stadium to earn a spot in the Class 5A state final. It was Lakeland’s first home shutout playoff loss.
At the turnstiles: This showing drew a standing-room only audience of 9,500 to Bryant Stadium. Thousands more watched on Bright House Sports Network or listened on WDAE 620 AM.
The stars: Wilder was the leading man, running for 92 yards on 20 carriers, and scoring the above-mentioned touchdown that stole the show. But give the Plant defense, which held a Lakeland team that averaged 39 points a game to just 134 total yards, the best supporting actors award.
Critics’ rating (on a scale of 1-4 stars): Two stars. An immensely hyped game was terribly one-sided. But Wilder’s effort was worth the price of admission
The sequel: The site is different — this time it’s at Plant’s Dads Stadium — but the stakes are exactly the same. Another capacity audience is expected.
Since the original aired: Plant went on to win the state title over Manatee, but stumbled out of the gate in 2010, dropping two of its first five (three if you count a preseason thumping at Manatee). But the Panthers are playing their best football in December. The Dreadnaughts, who returned just seven starters, restocked with new faces and are again 13-0 heading into this game. Their last loss was to Plant.
Returning stars: As always, keep an eye on Wilder, an FSU recruit who ran for 163 yards and two second-half touchdowns in last week’s 21-13 win over Countryside, and perhaps Alabama commit QB Phillip Ely, though he was forced to the bench early in Friday’s game with back spasms. RB Steward Butler, who ran for 253 yards and three TDs in Lakeland’s 29-19 win over Fleming Island last week, has 2,908 yards rushing, the sixth-best single-season total in state history. Butler transferred back to Lakeland after a year at Oviedo and has eight 200-yard rushing games.
Stars not returning: Essentially Plant’s entire roster aside from Wilder, Ely and offensive tackle Tony Posada. Lakeland QB Jarred “Scooter” Haggins, a three-year starter, is now a freshman receiver at Florida State. Linebackers Will Lucas (Purdue) and Quayshawn Nealy (Georgia Tech) are also playing on Saturdays now.
Joey Knight and Eduardo A. Encina, Times staff writers