ORLANDO — There was hope. There was happiness. There was hysteria.
Then, in the span of 18 hours in Green Cove Springs, East Lake and Orlando, there was nothing.
Friday night, Lakewood fell short by two points in a state semifinal.
East Lake staged an amazing rally, but lost in overtime of another state semifinal.
And Saturday, Clearwater Central Catholic lost 34-7 in the Class 3A state final because, well, Jacksonville Trinity Christian was just that much better....
SEFFNER — Noah Johnson was told, unflinchingly, the success of the Armwood football team this season hinged on how good he would be.
Throw the ball accurately, scramble for yards, make smart decisions, lead.
"I was good with that," said Johnson, a junior. "I knew everyone was looking at the quarterback position. I knew there were questions, but I was confident I would get there."...
TAMPA — Call it the Deflection at Dad's.
Fourth and long, the Panthers, down by a touchdown, backed up to their 3-yard line with less than two minutes to go in a second-round playoff game against Orlando Dr. Phillips on Nov. 22.
Quarterback Colby Brown heaves a pass 25 yards downfield.
Interception, Plant's Fletcher Barnes thought as he ran toward the play.
A pair of wide-open Dr. Phillips defenders leapt for the easy pick, inexplicably colliding in midair....
CLEARWATER — He didn't look any different Monday night.
Black slacks, white shirt, dark tie, hair shaved close to his skull, as always.
The mannerisms, all the same.
He tugged on his tie when he got angry, slapped his hands together after a bad turnover and rubbed his temples after another missed shot.
He squinted at the refs, held his palms to the sky, and looked at times to be in agony....
Cory Moore wasn't really sure what to say, so he said wow.
And then he laughed.
More wows. More laughter.
Lakewood is headed to the Class 5A state semifinals, and the head coach could barely believe it.
After a three-year stretch in which the Spartans had some of the best teams in school history, with rosters stocked with Division I talent, and yet fell short in every big game they played, Lakewood finally delivered Friday night in a 27-21 region final win over previously undefeated South Sumter....
Daniel Larusso used the crane to take out the Cobra Kai, and Jimmy Chitwood hit that jumper from the free-throw line, and Rocky beat Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago.
So, who is writing the script — and soundtrack, because what's a big upset without the catchy chest-thumping tunes — for Friday night, when Springstead High's football team travels to take on mighty Armwood?...
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....
TAMPA — Sean McNamee has had a lot of good days since the bad one that nearly took his life almost two months ago. Wednesday was one of the good days.
The 16-year-old Wharton football player chatted with the nurses who helped save his life, hugged the surgeon who operated on him and regaled the team that continues to help him recover from a life-threatening brain injury with tales of life in recovery, including a recap of Wharton's playoff game last week....
LARGO — Largo defenders went to bed Friday night, I imagine, with visions of Jefferson quarterback Deiondre Porter dancing in their heads.
The Packers contained him in the first two quarters, kept him from making his usual big plays, and shut down his big-play wide receivers.
But after halftime, not so much.
The Jefferson quarterback slipped through tackles, ran through holes and broke the backs of the Packers....
For a time, Hudson couldn't find anyone to coach its football team.
The Cobras had lost 22 straight games, the roster had dwindled to a baker's dozen or so, and no one seemed to care much for the task of reversing all of that.
One ad looking for a coach had to be reposted, and another didn't draw the interest, or candidates, the school was really hoping for.
When Hudson finally found its guy, he declined....
It wasn't an overly taxing day, practice went smoothly that July morning, and Largo High School football coach Rick Rodriguez hadn't even worked out yet.
But when he got home that morning, his heart was fluttering and his vision was blurry.
His blood pressure was normal, but the machine measuring his pulse read 150.
"I thought it was broken," he said.
So he held out his wrist and pressed his forefinger and middle finger against it....
Tampa Catholic players wobbled off the field Friday night looking bewildered and lost.
Can we now call this the Walking Dead Rivalry?
The Crusaders looked like zombies, and The Streak won't die, no matter how hard the Crusaders try to kill it.
Heck, even Jesuit tried to kill it this time, inexplicably going for a third-down pass with 100 seconds remaining instead of running time off the clock then errantly snapping the ball into Tigers territory on a field-goal attempt....
Wiregrass Ranch football coach Mike Lawrence's first inclination is to call tonight's season finale against just-up-the-road Wesley Chapel just another game.
But even as he says the words, it's pretty obvious he doesn't believe them.
A few seconds later, he is grinning widely.
"It's a big game," he says. "You know it. And you're going to write it that way."...
Tampa Catholic High School has more Division I recruits, more wins and a far better chance to make a deep playoff run.
Heck, some are saying the Crusaders have a pretty good chance of playing for a state football championship next month.
They have the more experienced quarterback, a more explosive offense and a better defense.
They played a tougher schedule and beat better teams....
It is Malik Johns' team.
Why wouldn't the biggest play of the season be his, too?
With 5:20 remaining, Johns took an inside handoff — probably designed to gain a few yards and run some time off of the clock — changed directions when the block didn't materialize, broke outside and sprinted 61 yards, untouched, to a touchdown.
The score put Pasco ahead of archrival Zephyrhills 24-16 and was the biggest blow in a game ultimately decided, as it often is, by the best player on the field....