Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Sports

Hillsborough flag football has nothing in common with powderpuff

TAMPA

Leaving the house Wednesday, my wife asked me what I was covering that night.

"Flag football," I replied.

"You mean like powderpuff?" she remarked, brow angled south.

Flag football has been a recognized Florida High School Athletic Association sport in Hillsborough County for the past six years is but slow to shake the powderpuff comparisons. Some still think it's just a cursory event that's more fun and fluff than serious sport.

Think again.

Consider Wednesday's playoff game between Chamberlain and Robinson a prime example. Fast, athletic girls darting around the field. Well-designed plays countered by tight defense. Overtime drama. And in the end, an upset that touched off a wild midfield celebration.

Far from powderpuff.

Still not convinced? Chamberlain's star running back/receiver Andrea "Poo Poo" Aaron is such a good player that she chewed up youth football in Tampa — against boys — as chronicled in a 2006 Times article. Many, including Robinson coach Josh Saunders, labeled Chiefs quarterback Clarice Devine, who also played football with the boys as a youth, the state's best player. Robinson's Deliah Autry, a whirling dervish of lanky arms and legs, slashes through would-be tacklers. Knights receiver Katherine King, who scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT, catches everything thrown her way.

Both teams moved the ball but couldn't find pay dirt. Devine routinely tossed perfect spirals 40 yards down the field. Autry deftly slinked through the defense. Aaron made a remarkable sideline catch, shuffling her feet just shy of the chalk while cradling the ball on her fingertips. After that catch, a Chamberlain player shouted "That's an NFL play right there!"

She was right.

Chamberlain's defense twice batted away fourth-down passes in the end zone. Aaron nearly hauled in the game-winner in the end zone on the final play of regulation but was ruled out of bounds.

The scoreless game went to overtime when Autry rolled left and threw a pass just out of the defender's reach to the front corner of the end zone, in a spot only King could catch it.

She did, falling to the ground, ball tucked in her midsection.

After a missed extra point, Chamberlain had a chance to win but Autry sneaked in front of a Chiefs receiver and plucked the ball out of the air. Robinson, a team that was 0-11 all-time against Chamberlain, had defied history to advance in the playoffs with a thrilling 6-0 overtime win.

"A miracle," Autry said afterward.

No, a spectacle.

The monkey — make that the silverback gorilla — was finally off the Knights' back. Robinson advanced to host Alonso on Saturday afternoon. Even though the game would be played after press time and my boss isn't paying me to show up, I planned on being in the stands as a spectator. Whichever team advances will face the East Bay/Plant City winner Tuesday night. I would suggest putting down the remote, turning off The Voice and coming to check these ladies out.

And no, it's definitely not powderpuff.

Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]

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