VALRICO — How in the name of Seffner do you beat Armwood?
Eleven teams have tried this season. Eleven teams have failed, most of them miserably. The Hawks have scored 30 or more points in 10 of those 11 games, and no team has put more than 14 points on the scoreboard against Armwood.
"I'll tell you what," Bloomingdale coach Jason Stokes said. "They are every bit as good as the hype indicated."
There were rumblings before the season that this Armwood team was the best in the school's history, and that in itself says a lot. The Hawks, after all, have quite a history.
Armwood won state titles in 2003 and 2004 before losing in the 2005 final to future Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and Ponte Vedra Nease.
Armwood will need to win the state title before it can be written in stone that this year's squad is the best in school history, but the Hawks are well on their way. Consider some of these staggering numbers: The Hawks have outscored opponents 420 to 56 – that's not a misprint.
How about the defense?
Armwood has four shutouts this year, including three in a row at one point. Two of those teams, Jefferson and Newsome, made the playoffs.
"The defense really doesn't like to get scored on," Armwood coach Sean Callahan said. "That doesn't sit well with them."
Stokes and the Bulls didn't play the Hawks, but the first-year coach did watch film on them. Like most, Stokes was impressed.
"Their offense is explosive, and the defense they have is just unreal," he said.
Armwood has Division I talent all over the field. Quarterback Mywan Jackson, linebacker Petey Smith, defensive lineman Ryne Giddins and safety Angelo Hadley are just a few of the Hawks who will play football on Saturdays next season for big-time universities.
Tampa Bay Tech takes on Armwood in the 4A region semifinals. Stokes said widening the field might be the Titans' best hope on offense. "I would try to spread them out. Stretch the front and make their linebackers make plays."
Considering Armwood's speed, particularly on defense, Stokes said the best scheme would involve deception.
"I would try some misdirection," he said. "But you have to set that up. If you run three traps, come back with a counter trap on the fourth. And you have to give them different looks and disguise things."
Sounds simple, right?
"The problem," Stokes said, "is that you have to have the horses to run with them."
On offense, the Hawks are keyed by Jackson. Coming out of the shotgun spread, Jackson has run and pass options on nearly every play. Callahan compared the Hawks' backfield to the "Wildcat" formation, which features a direct snap to a back who can run or throw. But Jackson, who has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns is far more than just a ball carrier.
"Teams better not think he's just a running back," Callahan said.
The Hawks are equally dangerous on special teams. They rarely punt, have a strong kicker in Garret Schmiz and use a number of starters on coverage teams.
"The best teams put their best players on special teams like Armwood does," Stokes said.
So should TBT, a team Armwood defeated 45-6 on Oct. 10, even bother showing up tonight? Of course, anything can happen. But Callahan had some chilling words for future opponents after the Hawks took Winter Haven apart last Friday.
"We have room for improvement," he said. "But if we stay healthy and keep getting better, I like our chances."