SEFFNER — The Armwood Hawks awoke Friday to find a large black "H" painted on their midfield logo. Several hours later, sophomore Matt Jones left his cleat marks embedded in the south end zone.
The former signaled vandalism; the latter signaled victory.
On a night when the Hawks' normally imposing defense bent, Jones blasted. His 55-yard scoring run — on a play called "blast" — with 3:42 remaining helped Armwood (6-1, 2-0) escape Lyle Flagg Stadium with a 34-21 district triumph over Hillsborough (5-2, 1-1).
One week ago, Jones (15 carries, 119 yards, three touchdowns) was serving a one-game suspension for having his cell phone on during a test. Friday, he was dialing up a handful of big runs for an offense that, in some ways, still is trying to find itself amid a glaring youth movement.
"This was his big game," said Hawks coach Sean Callahan, whose team can wrap up the Class 4A, District 9 crown at East Bay on Nov. 6. "This is a game we needed of a Matt Jones because we really don't have an identity on the offense."
Meanwhile, the identity of Hillsborough's offense — quarterback Tarean Austin — was painfully recognizable to the Hawks.
Enjoying the most prolific night by an opposing quarterback at Flagg Stadium in memory, Austin posted staggering numbers (21-of-39, 299 yards, three touchdowns, one interception) against a defense that had been allowing fewer than 65 yards a game.
"We thought we had a chance to throw the ball; that was our game plan," Terriers coach Earl Garcia said. "We were going to run enough to keep them honest, but they did a nice job on the run. We thought our offensive line did a pretty good job on pass protection. … Obviously it wasn't good enough."
But it darned near was. After being sacked by David Tinsley and Jermaine McKinley on consecutive fourth-quarter plays, Austin connected with Charles Lovett (eight catches, 150 yards) for 12 yards on third and 15 and Jordan Duval for 78 yards on fourth and 3.
Two plays later, with 4:31 to play, he found Duval (eight catches, 88 yards) for a 6-yard touchdown to make it 28-21. The ensuing onside kick was recovered by Armwood, and two plays later, Jones raced to his right for his 55-yard score.
"That's demoralizing," Garcia said.
Hillsborough's other demoralizer: a blocked punt by Alton Bailey that Eric Striker recovered in the end zone to give Armwood a 14-7 second-quarter lead.
"We gave up a score on special teams, which we work so hard on, and then we didn't tackle well (Friday night), and we had too many penalties on offense," Garcia said. "That combination of three things, you can't win against a good football team like Armwood."