Even way back in the moments after Armwood High's 9-2 victory over Plant in Week 1 of the 2008 football season, everyone knew this: The Panthers and Hawks were going to play again.
Friday night at Dads Stadium in a Class 4A region final, they will.
It will be the most anticipated rematch in ages — the first game was televised live by ESPNU — and leaves us wondering if the result will be the same.
But let's look back at then and consider now in an effort to help make a decision:
1. The quarterback
THEN: Aaron Murray, the Georgia-bound star, was harassed into a subpar performance by his standards. He completed 17 of 36 passes for 148 yards and one interception. Even so, the Panthers had a chance to win it at the end. Considering he had yet to throw a touchdown in three games against Armwood, you could argue he was due to break out in his fourth try. However …
NOW: Since taking over for Murray, who broke his leg last month, Phillip Ely threw for 172 yards in one half against Hillsborough and has thrown for at least 200 yards in four of his six starts. He has had six weeks, including two playoff games, to get ready. That's probably not enough time. If he somehow engineers an upset, however, I have two words for you: Disney movie!
2. Armwood offense
THEN: Armwood had 51 yards rushing on 26 carries in the first game. Mywan Jackson never looked comfortable. The Hawks were held in single digits for the first time since a 27-8 loss to Wharton in 2002.
NOW: The Hawks, with Tavari Grant becoming a game-breaking back, have run for more than 200 yards in every game but one, and in that one the Hawks passed for 225 yards. Jackson is one of the front-runners for player of the year. The Hawks have been simply overpowering, scoring more than 40 points eight times in 11 contests.
3. Armwood defense
NOW: This is still the area's best defense, hands down. And though it's tempting to look and wonder at the fact that in the past five games, Freedom and Winter Haven scored 14 points and Tampa Bay Tech put up 20, don't. Seriously.
4. Orson and Allen
THEN: Neither Plant player had a great impact on the first game, the first for each as Panthers. Orson Charles had 61 yards receiving, and Allen Sampson had 57. Neither player scored.
NOW: Charles, who emerged as one of the county's most unstoppable players, went on to catch at least one touchdown pass in every game until last week; Sampson caught at least one touchdown in the next six games after the opener. They have to be the playmakers Friday. Armwood has allowed nine touchdowns this year; four have been 39 yards or longer. Hey, it's something.
5. Plant's offensive line
THEN: Entered a shelter for abused linemen after the game.
NOW: Since Ely took over for Murray, he has been sacked three times in six starts (or one fewer time than Ryne Giddins sacked Murray in the first half of the opener). It's a young group but with a season's worth of experience should be better equipped to deal with counterparts on the Hawk line.
THEN: ESPNU televised the first game and helped turn it into the huge disappointment it was. Great for the national exposure of the kids, but with all the timeouts and delays to accommodate the coverage, horrible for the game's flow. It was awful. I blame TV.
NOW: Expect the same kind of steady pace high school football is known for, and the teams should deliver a much better game truer to their talents. Back then, it seemed people were split as to who would win. But now?
John C. Cotey can be reached at email@example.com.