TAMPA — In a game that took forever, Armwood safety Angelo Hadley had plenty of time.
The play that helped decide Armwood's 9-2 win over Plant on Friday night at Dads Stadium was an ugly one — the hands of two of the county's top recruits clashing in the final two minutes, a wobbly football floating into the air and Hadley patiently waiting for a gift-wrapped interception that ended a 3-hour, 15-minute game that was more a matter of survival than a classic.
"You just looked into guys' eyes and you saw they wanted this one," Armwood linebacker Petey Smith said. "It's like this could be our year."
ESPNU brought the cameras to Hillsborough County, but this wasn't the area's proudest high school football effort. Armwood and Plant, nationally ranked squads that have met in the past two Class 4A region finals, combined for 24 penalties and totaled just more than 200 yards total offense. And to make matters worse, constant commercial breaks slowed the game to a snail's pace.
Plant star quarterback Aaron Murray and the offense sputtered, but the Panthers still found themselves 26 yards away from a tying touchdown.
But that's when defensive end Ryne Giddins, who spent most of the second half on the sideline battling cramps, put his head down, drove into the tackle and plowed into the backfield, deflecting Murray's third-down pass attempt into the air and into Hadley's hands.
"It looked like it was going 10 miles an hour," Hadley said. "We wanted this all day."
Plant didn't have a second-half first down until its final drive, when Murray converted three first downs to lead Plant inside the Armwood 26 for the fifth time.
"Finally we were executing," said Murray, who went 17-of-36 for 120 yards. "When you play Armwood, you have to execute."
But Murray, the county's most prolific passer, hasn't thrown a touchdown in three games against Armwood, which came into the night ranked second in the nation by Rivals.com. The Panthers managed just 114 yards total offense.
Said Armwood coach Sean Callahan: "He saw Armwood defense again."
Armwood took control early on Mywan Jackson's 13-yard touchdown pass to Dykerius Cross, grabbing a 7-0 lead on its first possession.
But after that, the Hawks sputtered. They committed 13 of their 16 penalties in the first half, unable to mount any sort of offensive tempo. Included in the Hawks' 16 penalties were four 15-yarders.
A bad snap deep in Hawks territory scooted past Jackson and into the end zone for a safety, but Theodore Jackson's pressure on Murray in his own end zone ended in an intentional grounding call and a safety for the Hawks.
Still, Murray had his team on third and 5 at the Armwood 26 with the defense backpeddling. The Hawks had two other tries to pick off Murray, including one that fell between Hadley's hands.
But this one was too good to miss.
"I was teasing him that he owed me one since he missed one," Jackson said. "He got us back."