SEFFNER — It was a game of mutual admiration between Armwood defensive end Byron Cowart and Jefferson quarterback Deiondre Porter Friday night.
Cowart would knock Porter down, and the Dragon would say nice play. Porter would escape Cowart's grasp, and the Hawk would say nice move.
It was pretty obvious in the end, the Class 6A region semifinal was going to come down to who made the biggest play between the two.
Turns out it was Cowart, who returned two fumbles for touchdowns, had two sacks and was all over Porter most of the game.
"I touched him more than I did last time," said Cowart, a junior. "He felt me. He told me during the game I was a hell of a player and I told him he was a hell of a player. It was that kind of game."
Despite trailing at the half, the unbeaten Hawks used a flurry of what they do best — big splash plays, short and long, offensive and defensive — in the first six minutes of the second half of a 52-48 win over Jefferson.
Down 28-17 with two minutes left in the second quarter, Armwood scored 28 in roughly seven minutes of action to end the first half and open the second as the Hawks (12-0) opened a 45-28 lead.
"You can't let that happen against a great team like Armwood," Jefferson coach Jeremy Earle said. "That makes it hard to win."
The vaunted Armwood defense stuffed Jefferson for its only three and out to start the third quarter, and on their first play from scrimmage quarterback Noah Johnson hit Talvin Bailey with a little screen pass he turned into an 87-yard touchdown run down the sideline.
On the next play, Porter fumbled and Cowart scooped a loose ball and rambled for a 20-yard score — his second of the game — to put the Hawks up 38-28.
On Jefferson's next drive, the Dragons attempted a fake punt on their own 47, and failed.
With Johnson, who played superbly, running for 10, passing for 12, and running four more times, the last a 6-yard touchdown run, the Hawks suddenly led 45-28.
"This was a good football game, that's what it was," Armwood coach Sean Callahan said.
The Hawks held Porter, who had 1,000-plus yards rushing this season, to 39 on 22 carries.
But Porter had success through the air, going 24 of 42 for 383 yards and five touchdowns, three to Derrick Ingram.
But his two fumbles led to scores.
"He had some unbelievable passes that were caught tonight," Callahan said. "Unbelievable. I mean, you can expect one or two, but he must have had a dozen tonight. He's a great quarterback."
Johnson, though, might have been better. He opened the game with runs of 26 and 46 yards, and finished with a career-high 181 yards on 29 carries.
He also threw for 189 yards.
"He's getting better, you can see, every day in practice," Callahan said.
Jefferson drove for one final score, on a short Porter run, as time expired. As the Hawks celebrated, the Dragon quarterback could only stand with his family at midfield trying to hold back tears.
"This one," said Earle, "is going to hurt for a long time."