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A rivalry between Armwood, Plant?

Aaron Murray watched the tape just once, and it took a week until he could bear the sight of those blue jerseys again.

Plant's star quarterback relived the Panthers' season-ending Class 4A region final loss to Armwood play-by-play in December, wishing he had another opportunity to undo the Hawks' 36-7 win.

"I thought about it a lot," Murray said, "but I've tried to use it as motivation. … We lost both of those games (to Armwood) pretty bad. We don't want to have that happen again."

Tonight, in front of an ESPNU national television audience, Armwood and Plant will meet again at Dads Stadium. The past two seasons the teams have gone through each other en route to the state final four. They are the only programs to bring state titles back to Hillsborough County in the past four decades.

Some would call it a rivalry.

Armwood coach Sean Callahan is not one of those people.

"Those people over there, they want to say that because they want to be us," Callahan said Wednesday, sitting inside Armwood's new fieldhouse. "They want to have two state championships. They want to have a fieldhouse like this. We got Nike jerseys, so they bought Nike jerseys. All the things that are in a rivalry, none of them are there."

Since Armwood's last commanding victory over Plant on Nov. 30, Plant coach Robert Weiner put a countdown for today on the dry erase board in the locker room.

"I've been waiting for 200-something days for (today)," Plant senior safety Hunter Baldwin said. "If you're feeling tired, you just think about last year and what happened and it makes you want to work."

And when Plant was flying west to play in national seven-on-seven tournaments and Armwood's weight room hadn't been completed, the Hawks would work out under the bleachers at Lyle Flagg Field, talking about how they were sweating in the summer heat while the Panthers were flying cross country.

Armwood enters the game ranked second in the nation by Rivals.com; Plant is 32nd.

"I don't know if it's a rivalry like that, but I can understand why there's a lot of competition between us," Armwood senior tackle Justin Cabbagestalk said. "They're huge games. Ever since we got that No. 2 ranking, we said we had to earn that. That's a preseason ranking. By the end of the year we want to be No. 1. That's what we're trying to earn. We're not trying to prove anything."

Recently, Armwood has dominated. The Hawks won both games last year by a combined 62-14 score. But after winning back-to-back state titles in 2003 and '04, Plant followed up with its own in '06.

"To be a rivalry, both teams have to be good," Weiner said. "Both teams have to win once in a while, so we have to do a little more of our part. … I know Sean doesn't like to talk about it as a rivalry, and that's his prerogative. I think there's enough that's passed back and forth in competitive spirit that if it's not a rivalry, I don't know what the word is for it."

Though the teams see the possibility of meeting each other again in the region final Dec. 5, both sides agree a win tonight would have incredible merit.

"It would slingshot us through the season," Murray said.

"Such a mental advantage," Cabbagestalk said. "If we beat them at their house, it's going to be stuck in their head forever."

Said Baldwin: "It would be like being shot out of a cannon."

Rivalry or simply revelry, this game will be one to remember.

"It's going to take some close games and maybe some heated words back and forth to juice it up some," Callahan said.

"Could it be (a rivalry)? Yeah. … We're getting there."

A rivalry between Armwood, Plant? 09/04/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 6, 2008 6:26pm]

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