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Thrilling high school football deserves big crowd

It's a mistake.

Every self-avowed football fan who passed up one of last week's state semifinal high school games made a mistake.

If you love watching the Seminoles, Gators or Bulls on Saturdays, if you lustily root for the Bucs on Sundays, you should have made your way to Armwood or Plant last week.

What did you miss? Extremely competitive games practically guaranteed before kickoff to be nail-biters. Since 2004, almost every state semifinal game played in this county has been thrilling.

At Armwood, the Hawks sealed their trip to Saturday's Class 6A state semifinal with a thrilling triple-overtime win.

Plant came up on the losing end, but gave an entertaining effort in a shootout against Apopka. Besides, any game at Dad's Stadium is worthy.

I went to Armwood, where my sons once played, and joined the rest of the fans in standing through most of the fourth quarter and the three overtime periods. Bartram Trail stormed back from a 14-0 deficit to tie the game.

The teams then took turns trying to score from the 10-yard line. Both teams get an offensive possession in each overtime, and with each touchdown, the game grew more and more suspenseful.

When Armwood knocked down a pass to thwart Bartram Trail's last scoring attempt, coaches jumped into the air, players spilled onto the field and parents hugged each other as they began to chant, "We're going to the 'ship. We're going to the 'ship."

When the Bartram Trail players lined up to shake hands, they received warm applause from the home crowd. Afterward, each team huddled and many of the parents and family members remained in the stands.

Maybe they were trying to catch their breath, maybe they wished for more action. The announcer had to encourage them to leave.

I looked at the $9 ticket I bought to get in, and thought to myself that the value far outpaced the thrills I viewed after paying $15.50 to see Thor in IMAX 3D.

And then I thought about the crowd that gathered at Lyle Flagg Field. The throng, loud, encouraging and spirited, deserves credit for coming out. But to be honest, it should have been larger.

Tarpon Springs East Lake hosted a state semifinal last week and had to add extra stands to accommodate all the fans. So many people in the community came out for the game that many had to sit on the visiting side.

Armwood didn't have any overflow problems.

That's a shame.

Perhaps the novelty of having a state contending football team has worn off at Armwood, which now moves into its second decade of perennial playoff contention.

Allegiances are divided among so many different high schools. I know some begrudgingly may hold their support because of the program's past problems with player eligibility.

But I also know from first-hand experience that coach Sean Callahan is doing a great job instilling character in his players. I know that the Hawks' last five state semifinal games have been arguably more exciting than the state championship games.

I know a team that wins so consistently and proves so entertaining should be a more captivating force in a community known for sinkholes and recreational vehicle sales.

Most of all, I know when people ask do I miss covering sports, I don't think about Super Bowls, highly paid athletes or overzealous college fans.

I think about Friday nights.

That's all I'm saying.

Thrilling high school football deserves big crowd 12/11/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 2:30pm]
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