ORLANDO — The looks of concern began spreading across Armwood players' faces at the end of the first quarter of Saturday's Class 6A state championship game, when Miami Central already had more points than the Hawks had yards.
By the time the running clock hit zeroes at the Citrus Bowl, the Hawks' despair turned to glum acceptance. Armwood was simply overwhelmed by one of the country's top teams in a 52-7 loss.
"None of this is a surprise," Armwood coach Sean Callahan said. "This is what we expected. We knew what we were getting into."
What they got into was a Rockets lineup that looked every bit like a team ranked third nationally by USA Today in winning its third state championship in the past four seasons.
Miami Central (13-1) dominated up front from the start to hand the Hawks their worst playoff loss in program history. The Rockets' electric running back, Florida commitment Dalvin Cook, dashed and slashed his way to a 37-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter. Malik Adams added a 7-yard score two minutes later, and Armwood fell into a 14-point hole it couldn't escape.
The Rockets defense was equally impressive, holding the Hawks (14-1) to 12 yards in the first quarter. Only seven of Armwood's first 23 plays gained yards, and Miami Central forced three-and-outs on six of the Hawks' first seven drives.
"We came out soft; they came out hard," quarterback Noah Johnson said. "That simple."
After Gators commitment Da'Vante Phillips snagged a 19-yard touchdown, Armwood made its only run of the game. The first of safety Kyle Gibson's two interceptions gave the Hawks the ball at Miami Central's 37. Johnson hit Trevor Laurent seven plays later for an 11-yard touchdown pass that cut the deficit to 14.
Armwood had a chance for more points at the end of the half but failed to get out of bounds on a third-down pass. Time ran out before the Hawks could attempt a field goal that would have cut the deficit to 21-10.
Armwood advanced into Rockets territory only twice after that and never scored again. The Hawks were sacked five times, intercepted three times and finished with only 171 yards in their worst offensive performance since October 2012's 3-0 loss to Hillsborough.
"I knew how it was going to be," said Gibson, a Vanderbilt commitment. "I knew we had to come hard and get out early, but that wasn't really the case."
The Rockets pulled away immediately in the second half. Cook, who finished with 223 yards on 19 carries, capped Miami Central's first drive with a 6-yard touchdown run, the second of his four scores. Three plays later, Tavius Brown intercepted Armwood and ran it back for a 43-yard score to put the game out of reach.
"We kind of got what we deserved," Callahan said.
Before Armwood even accepted its third runnerup trophy since 2005, the Hawks were already talking about 2014. Armwood graduates only 12 seniors and should return 13 starters next fall, including Johnson, Laurent and Jordan Griffin (nine tackles).
Callahan said he hopes his program's worst loss in 12 years against a team the Hawks beat for the 2011 state title shows his young team what it needs to do in the offseason to return here next year and leave with a different result.
"Hard lesson," Callahan said. "It's also reality."
Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.