The first half of the decade belonged to Armwood, the second to Plant. Now the race to see which team dominates the area football landscape for the next 10 years begins tonight.
Armwood and Plant resume Hillsborough County's biggest football rivalry tonight at 7:30 when the Hawks travel to Dad's Stadium to meet the Panthers.
"Any time these two teams meet, the intensity goes through the roof," Hawks coach Sean Callahan said.
That's because Armwood and Plant have carried the flag for the county in terms of football excellence over the past 10 years. The Hawks became the first Hillsborough team to win a state title since 1969 when they took home the championship in 2003. Armwood repeated as state champs in 2004 and were a touchdown away from three in a row, losing to a Tim Tebow-led Nease team in 2005.
Plant has captured state championships three times, winning the title in 2006 before back-to-back championships in 2008 and 2009. Each team has knocked the other out of the 4A playoffs twice in the past five years before Plant moved up to 5A last season.
"It's always a great matchup," Plant coach Bob Weiner said. "Both teams have played at a high level for quite some time now, so when we get together it's usually something special."
The two teams share similar success on the football field, but couldn't be farther from each other in many other ways. Plant sits in the affluent South Tampa area of town. BMWs and Audis dot its student parking lot. Newsweek rated Plant the 47th best high school in the country last year.
Armwood didn't fare as well, earning a grade of "D" in 2008-09 from the Florida Department of Education. The school is as blue-collar as its Seffner home. Take a quick glance around its student parking lot and you'll see pickup trucks.
"But both areas love their teams," Weiner said.
So does all this explain why Plant has long been considered a chic, finesse team compared to Armwood's smash-mouth, hit-first-ask-questions-later attitude?
"At one time, we were certainly the more physical, hard-nosed team," Callahan said. "But I think all that has changed. Now they're the two-time defending state champs."
This year's version of the game again is loaded with unbelievable talent and future college athletes. Armwood (3-0) features quarterback Josh Grady and tailback Matt Jones while Plant (3-1) counters with QB Philip Ely (Alabama) and RB James Wilder Jr. (FSU), just to name a few.
"I can tell you one thing for sure," Callahan said. "After Friday night both teams will be better having played this game."
Recent Armwood-Plant history
Nov. 18, 2005: Region semifinal — Armwood 24, Plant 6
Nov. 24, 2006: Region final — Plant 38, Armwood 20
Aug. 31, 2007: Armwood 26, Plant 7
Nov. 30, 2007: Region final — Armwood 36, Plant 7
Sept 5, 2008: Armwood 9, Plant 2
Dec. 5, 2008: Region final — Plant 17, Armwood 14
Oct. 2, 2009: Plant 17, Armwood 7
Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]